The future of EWU’s studio arts


Bailey Monteith

The Downtown Student Art Gallery was previously supported by student activities fees but lost its funding in 2018.

By Ben Blakney, Technology Director


In the midst of EWU’s decisions to conduct winter quarter online, programs such as ceramics and studio arts need to adapt to an especially atypical workspace. 

Jenny Hyde, associate professor and art department chair, has outlined some plans and contingencies for the future of EWU’s more hands-on arts.

“We’ve already translated most of our curriculum online,” said Hyde. “[The] art faculty has done a tremendous job of teaching traditional art classes in an online environment.

Hyde said EWU was able to offer an in-person painting course this fall quarter, and hopes to offer it again in the remaining academic year. She mentioned the obvious frustrations and limitations to an online art curriculum, but there have been some unexpected positive outcomes as well.

“We are feeling the weight of the pandemic,” said Hyde. “But artists are creative. Solving problems is what we do. This experience is an opportunity to think freely, look at things differently and try new things.”

“But artists are creative. Solving problems is what we do.” -Jenny Hyde, associate professor and art department chair

As EWU’s winter quarter is online, any upcoming art-focused student should expect to be working almost exclusively from home. Hyde recommends designating a place to work on art projects at home.

“Even if it’s just a section of a table or a corner of a room, make a space for artmaking,” said Hyde.

If students are needing any advice or assistance during this time, resources are readily available.

“As chair of the art department, students are welcome to reach out to me,” said Hyde. “Without the community that the art building automatically provides, the sense of isolation is exaggerated with online learning.”

Hyde said she’s always happy to get in touch with students over Zoom, even if all they need is a casual conversation.

Elisa Nappa is a ceramics professor working from her kitchen. Her day-to-day life is drastically affected by the art program’s movements to an online space.

Get it Together Susan (Aziz Jamal, Olivia Evans and Jennifer Acevedo) (Whitney Bolar for The Easterner)

“At first, I was skeptical,” said Nappa. “It is a hands-on class, and a bit messy.”

Nappa utilizes recorded lectures for her students. This way the students can revisit any point in the process as they learn.

This is Nappa’s first online class in 25 years of teaching at EWU. In this transition, she revamped her curriculum to simplify some of the processes of ceramics, and to make them more adaptable for students at home.

“Overall, I am pretty impressed with what the students were able to accomplish in their home spaces,” said Nappa.

A class such as ceramics has aspects that struggle to be adapted for online learning. Firing, where the clay is super-heated in a kiln in order to make them more durable and crystalline, is an example. 

Thankfully, EWU planned ahead for this. This fall, the class was offered as a partial hybrid.

EWU student Aiden Cook stands outside the music and arts building. (Keri Kelly)

“We have been approved for partial hybrid again for winter quarter,” said Nappa. “Students [will still] come to campus to pick up supplies to work on from home. Then, we have a few times students can drop off their works to be fired in the kilns. Then, they can pick up their finished works.”

Unfortunately, there are other aspects that simply cannot be adapted to an online ceramics studio.

“The sense of community we get when we come together in a classroom is not at the same level,” said Nappa. “In the classroom, I spend one-on-one time with my students and help them improve their work. [The students] also [usually] form friendships and learn from each other while working together in a classroom, and that is much harder to do through the computer.”

Ceramic students also miss out on the final steps of ceramics — glazing.

“I have been glazing all the work for the students so they can take home their final projects,” said Hyde. “It’s more work for me but I am happy to see the final outcome. The students are thrilled to take home their final pieces.”

Chris Tylia is another professor at EWU offering a studio art course. His focus is Image and Technology, focusing primarily on Adobe Illustrator.

“[Online fall] has been less creating videos and more focusing on the software,” said Tylia.

“In the classroom, I spend one-on-one time with my students and help them improve their work. [The students] also [usually] form friendships and learn from each other while working together in a classroom, and that is much harder to do through the computer.” -Elisa Nappa, ceramics professor

Tylia offers benefits from both synchronous and asynchronous classes, meeting at least once a week on Zoom and offering a “pop-in lab time” if a student needs some individual help. The asynchronous use of Canvas modules allows the student to revisit old lessons if need be.

“It’s a combination of beginning studio art where we cover elements of art principles and design, while at the same time learning the computer as an art-making tool,” said Tylia.

Coupling with the aforementioned strategies from Hyde and Nappa, Tylia also has advice for both current and upcoming EWU artists.

“Now is the time to download or subscribe to a software,” said Tylia. “Any device you have, find a creative piece of software that will run on it and run on it well. While you’re binging Netflix, draw, doodle, make something. You have that creative spirit in you, you have to let it out somehow.”

Tylia, moving forward, aims to break down as much new-artist fear as possible in his classes.

“A 10-week class is great, but it’s only 10 weeks and you can only do so much,” said Tylia. “Just keep practicing.”

Overall, arts at EWU are comfortable in its transition to a fully-online environment, and should lockdowns increase or decrease, backup plans are ready to be implemented.

Prof. Nappa’s home teaching environment and her collection of ceramics. (courtesy of Elisa Nappa)

An advanced ceramics student collection of mugs (courtesy of Elisa Nappa)

A table of beginner finished pots (courtesy of Elisa Nappa)