Lost & Gained

How Myers School of Art Students Weathered the Pandemic


Image via Naomi Boyer

A Moment, Please Naomi Boyer, oil painting.

By LeKesha Parkman, Editor-in-Chief

March 10, 2020 was a day filled with disbelief and confusion. The rumor mill was rife with speculation at UA’s Myers School of Art of an eminent shut down because of the coronavirus(COVID-19). While a pandemic wasn’t unprecedented, it certainly wasn’t anything I thought I would actually live through or be affected by. This feeling was echoed by fellow graphic design major Kohl Spieker.  

Senior sculpture major Sara Scott working on a project. (Image via LeKesha Parkman)

Spieker noted that he was naive to think he would never have to navigate through a pandemic.   

“Seeing how easily the pandemic popped up restored a high level of gratitude for the medical and science communities as to how important their work is and how they keep us all safe from other illnesses,” Spieker said. 

The shutdown occurred during the end of my sophomore year, which was particularly stressful because sophomores in the graphic design major were preparing for Junior Review, which would occur during the Fall of 2020.  

The world was very much on my periphery.  

My father was one of the first people I knew who took the warnings seriously. Months before Governor Mike DeWine announced a statewide mask mandate, he asked both my sister and I to wear face coverings, going so far as to buy one for me and mail another to my sister who lives out of state.  

Certainly this would all blow over? I thought.  

That Tuesday, we learned the building was shutting down at 5 p.m., which gave us less than an hour to clear out. Everything we needed had to go with us, because we weren’t sure when we would be permitted back into the building.  

In the halls there was pandemonium, especially in the painting wing and ceramics building. Some students were frantically carrying work that was bigger than them.  

How in the world will they be able to work? How will we adapt? I wondered. 

Senior Kayla Weinman was wondering the same thing. As a ceramics major, she needed access to the building. After receiving the news of Myers closing, her professor Drew Ippoliti found her frozen in her studio space chewing on her thumbnail. She described feeling a wave of panic and anxiety. Weinman was worried about junior review, which was to be a culmination of years of study, but then immediately felt guilty.  

“It sounds so selfish. So many things were in my head. Drew walked in and said, Stop panicking. Get the stuff you need and go home. There is nothing else you can do,” Weinman said.    

In the aftermath the staff and faculty at Myers did their best to reassure and communicate with the students, but many of us had questions the faculty didn’t yet have answers to.  

“The world wasn’t ending (because of lost access to Myers), but I felt like mine kinda was. I don’t think people realize how intensive art school is, but this is my life. I’m here maybe seven days a week, if I’m not here I’m thinking about it. This is what I do,” Weinman said.

Popsicles – Kayla Weinman, Ceramic +
(Image via Kayla Weinman)

Experiences with online learning varied between students. For senior photography major Sarah Lacey the experience left much to be desired. “I found, and still find, online learning to be a curse for college education and maybe even education in general. It is so easy to skip class when you don’t have a physical space to go to.” 

For Lacey the pandemic took a toll on her mental health. She shared that she struggled to find motivation and creativity to create something she could be proud of, which upset her greatly. She also wished the hardship faced by so many could have been avoided. 

Senior sculpture major Sara Scott finds it difficult to now plan for her future. “Who knows what that even looks like anymore?” She wondered.  

Scott caught COVID-19 a few days before students were scheduled to return to campus, which has affected her academically.

According to Scott, her case wasn’t severe, but she’s still experiencing “covid brain” months later.  

She suffers from cognitive issues now, and struggles when reading and writing. She finds herself making seemingly simple mistakes, something that is difficult for her.  

“It’s so bizarre and super frustrating,” she explained before trying to make light of her situation. “It’s like what happened to my brain? I have a good brain, why is it not working?” 

Students were also affected by the faculty layoffs at UA. Spieker noted that while he was not affected academically, he was affected in an emotional sense.  

“It’s difficult to see someone that you believe was an efficient and effective teacher with a long tenure as a University of Akron professor get let go,” Spieker said. 

Senior painting & drawing major Abby Cipar said that many students are still upset from losing faculty that have been a major support system to them through the years. 

“I cannot stress enough that a pillar has been removed from the Myers family. It is hard to come by professors who truly love what they do and care for their students personally,” Cipar said.

Untitled – LeKesha Parkman, Acrylic paint, ceramic stucco, dimensional fabric paint on canvas (Image via LeKesha Parkman)

The professors at Myers are as impactful as the curriculum, working together to give students the best chance of success. During the initial shut down one of my Professors, Robert Kelemen, was particularly helpful. He sent emails frequently to keep us updated on the unfolding situation. His actions, like so many others there, helped to keep us grounded. Even though as students we didn’t have the whole picture, we knew our professors were being thoughtful of our situations.  

Returning during Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 has been nerve-wracking, but it has been nice to regain the collaborative atmosphere that permeates Myers. It felt great to once again chat with friends working in the front office and the Emily Davis Gallery or to pass by former professors and classmates in the hallway.  

The year of 2020 was a truly unique experience for all of us, filled with confusion and fear, but I am grateful that there can be triumph through pain.  

Lacey learned more about herself and her work by being forced to try things she wouldn’t have without added pressure. She found other positives as well. “I ended up meeting a lot of amazing people, coming out of this past year with a ton of new friends and a boyfriend,” she said.

James Edwards, metalsmith major, said his professor Sherry Simms had his class make a small piece each week during online instruction, which forced them to think outside the box. Edwards feels that he gained a lot while working on those mini projects because, “it taught me that I don’t have to only work with metal to be a metals major. I can work with all sorts of materials,” he said.  

Ciper acknowledged that while there were some positive things they experienced, they stressed the importance of not overlooking the hardships the pandemic brought upon the working-class. 

As for myself, I learned how to be more adaptable and relax the tight grip I had on my future. It’s okay if I don’t know everything at all times. Sometimes knowing what direction I’m headed in is good enough. Life happens and it’s better when you learn to go with the flow, no matter how scary.