You’ll find DC’s ‘fine’ art online at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Katherine Wagner's thesis piece.

The Fine Arts program at Durham College (DC) is a very hands-on experience for the students. They need to have the proper materials, space to work and specific equipment to complete projects.

Since the COVID-19 shutdown of campus, students were given a small amount of time to gather their materials and artwork from the studios and they no longer have access to that space.

Prior to COVID-19, DC students were getting ready for exams, placements and exhibitions.

When the school had to close to ensure the safety of faculty and students, many programs were left uncertain about the future.

“Suddenly, it was like a day and a half to take whatever they could and get home to complete the projects. Some didn’t even get what they needed and had to improvise,” says Sean McQuay, program coordinator of the Fine Arts program at DC.

The third-year students were finishing up thesis pieces for their Emerging Visions exhibition at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG). The students had to use their garages, kitchens and bedrooms to complete their artwork.

“When they went home, they didn’t have a real space to work in,” says McQuay.

Katherine Wagner is in her third-year at DC for Fine Arts. She works on her artwork in her basement, but has now begun using it as a relaxing space since the lockdown.

“The work I was producing wasn’t happening as fast, so I felt it wasn’t as good,” says Wagner.

The students did not let the circumstances stop them, however. The final pieces were finished and DC’s first virtual exhibition was created for the program on the RMG website.

“It’s sad because it didn’t conclude in the nicest way. We would have had a proper gallery and we could have met people and had a final hurrah,” says Wagner.

McQuay says although the experience has been rough from beginning to end, the art students have been adapting to online learning well. However, it is much more time consuming then meeting in the studio and having the supplies they need available at all times.

“That’s what college is all about – studios and facilities,” says McQuay.

He has been hosting two hour-long conversations daily with each student for consulting and critics – which would usually take three hours a day if they were in studio, according to McQuay.

“I want to give a huge amount of credit to the students, all students, being derailed because of this,” says McQuay.

McQuay has had a major impact on his students’ success as well, according to Wagner. He has been driving to his students houses to deliver their thesis pieces.

“Sean is truly amazing, he’s never been hard to reach, he’s always been very supportive throughout this,” says Wagner. “There have been students that were down and unmotivated and he kept reaching out and saying ‘no, you can do this’, I wish I could have celebrated graduating with him.”

The online ‘Emerging Visions’ exhibition can be seen here.