December 1, 2020

Working within confines of the Pandemic, students learn to create and exhibit original artwork

PORTSMOUTH – At a time when personal connections are, Great Bay Community College is creating new connections among artists and students studying art through a unique collaborative community art project.

The “Choose Community Art Project” involves Great Bay students and artists across Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, who are creating original art together by sharing projects in-progress through the mail and building on each other’s marks and brushstrokes until a final image is achieved.

Great Bay will display the work in a virtual exhibition in early 2021 and a physical exhibition at the Gateway Gallery on the Portsmouth campus when it is safe again to gather.

“Engaging in this process will reinforce creative problem-solving and familiarize students with the process of making and exhibiting art. We will learn from each other, create beautiful works and have fun,” said Dr. Annette Cohen, Professor of Fine Arts and Digital Design.

She got the idea from Kate Higley, an artist from Eliot who teaches at Great Bay and specializes in printmaking. She is a member of several regional artist guilds, one of which began a similar project among its members during the pandemic to stay connected without interacting in person.

“As soon as Annette said the theme was ‘Choose Community,’ (the college’s new tagline) I said, ‘I know how to build a community for these kids. I know we can do this,’” said Higley.

So much of being an art student involves sharing work and exchanging ideas in a studio setting, she said. That’s not possible because of the pandemic, but this project keeps the interaction part alive. “It’s not easy right now taking classes at home alone and not interacting much. This is a way for the students to interact with other artists and create something together,” Higley said.

Cohen also likes that students get to correspond and work with professional artists, all of whom Higley recruited. They can learn about process and technique, as well as what it is like to be an artist, she said.

There are 13 students and 26 community artists. They work in teams of three, with two artists and one student on each team. One team member initiates work and has two weeks to add to it before passing it along. The piece is finished when it returns to the artist who began it.

Teams can circulate more than one piece among them at a time, and there are no restrictions on subject, theme, or style. Any media can be used, including pencil, charcoal, paint, ink, pastel, marker, or mixed media. The work can be folded, cut, torn, or constructed, but it has to fit in an 11-by-13-inch flat mailer. The art can be realistic or abstract.

“Anything goes,” Cohen said. “The idea is for one artist to start a work and then send it on so the next person can enhance it or put their own personal stamp on it, and then they send it the third person.”

She told her students not to get attached to the work but to treat it as an opportunity for experimentation and expression. “I want them to connect with something and react to something and to use all the elements and principles of art that we try to teach, and also their knowledge of different types of media,” Cohen said. “They have to think about what colors to use, whether to use the same media or choose a different media, and they have to understand the compatibility of different materials.”

Art student Maddie Barcelona said her favorite part of the project was receiving the art from someone else and adding to it. “It’s rather challenging to look at someone else’s art and try to add your own bits to it, but it’s also really fun,” she said.

She was adding to a piece made by another team member, after already putting a piece of her own into circulation. “For my piece, I used ink and watercolor on thick paper. I painted a lady with plants in her hair. My inspiration was pretty technical in nature. I didn’t have a lot of colors left in my watercolor set besides blues and greens, so I painted what I could with what I had,” she said.

She hadn’t decided what to do with the piece she was adding to, other than having fun. “I think that’s what art really is, after all — looking at something and letting your imagination run wild.”

Barcelona said she appreciated feeling connected to other artists at a time when connections are few and far between. “I’m very happy to be doing this and being able to share my own artistic vision with other like-minded individuals,” she said.