Arts from afar

Despite the loss of in-person events, students find ways to connect virtually


Photos by Annie Means

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

Whitman College, like many other colleges around the world, is facing a lot of difficulties right now. In times of confusion and chaos, people often gravitate towards the arts to give them a sense of community and purpose. However, without the ability to hold in-person events, many students are finding it difficult to connect in the same way.

“The lack of live events is a necessary challenge right now,” said Ruby Daniel, a senior theatre major and the president of Drama Club. “The artists who I follow who rely on live events — actors, musicians, et cetera — as well as my own community are all definitely balancing being really sad about it, understanding its necessity and trying to figure out how to continue to bring art into the world.”

“It really really hurts to not be able to honor many of our traditional events,” she added. “But I am trying not to dwell on it.”

Katrina Roberts, an English professor and the director of the Visiting Writers Reading Series, also expressed her sadness at unrealized events.

“It’s of course tremendously disappointing not to be able to be on campus for classes this spring, and therefore, as well, not to welcome visiting writers onto our stages to read, to share work and to interact in direct ways with students and other community members in classrooms and special workshops,” Roberts said. “But certainly, the most important thing is the health and safety of all.”

Photo by Annie Means

Roberts added that events like the Visiting Writers Reading Series, which brings new and established writers to Whitman to share their work with students, can take a long time to prepare.

“I generally am scheduling up to a year in advance,” Roberts said. “We had really wonderful, established visitors planned for this spring, and I know this situation has felt really heartbreaking to many of us.”

Blake Killingsworth, a senior economics and psychology double major and the chair of the Whitman Events Board (WEB), discussed his own feelings of disappointment towards the cancellation of the spring WEB events.

“Event planning is a very future-oriented job; you plan months in advance and visualize event goals, and the most rewarding aspect is when that far-off vision becomes day-of reality,” Killingsworth said. “I definitely had to do a mental shift to reflecting on the successes that we did have this year and being proud of the people we brought together in the time that we could.”

While all of these losses are disappointing, groups are still working to bring a sense of community to Whitman students.

“Drama club has some stuff in the works — a newsletter, and a virtual banquet for the end of the semester to honor our work this year,” Daniel said. “It will not be the same, but we hope it provides some asynchronous connection and content.”

Daniel added that Drama Club is also working to provide resources to students so they can continue to enjoy the arts. She also said that she appreciates what other groups are doing, even though nothing can truly replace in-person events and connections.

Roberts felt similarly, pointing out that personal connection is especially important in the arts.

“It’s really a gift to have a shared ‘real’ space in actual time to create and collaborate,” Roberts said.

While the Visiting Writers Reading Series is unable to do much until next year, Roberts said that she is doing her part to encourage her students to create in any way possible, as much as they feel able.

“April is National Poetry Month, a time when many writers hold themselves accountable for producing a poem each day,” Roberts said. “I’ve been providing lots of reading alongside the prompts, and even just reading with no pressure to write seems to be helping some navigate this unprecedented time.”

“I think diving into one’s own work, if that’s possible, can be really wonderful,” she added. “Though also, it’s important not to feel one has to produce anything coherent in the midst of so much sadness and anxiety — only if it feels helpful to process, express [or] even escape.”

For those who find it helpful to create in these difficult times, Killingsworth has been working with a group of students to provide an outlet for people to express themselves: the Whitman Virtual Campus, a space in which students can come together virtually to share skills, art, writing, music and more. 

“The Whitman Virtual Campus website … was originally inspired by students posting music and other skill-share videos to Facebook groups,” Killingsworth said.

“While there is no perfect substitute for in-person events, we definitely feel a sense of responsibility in providing an outlet for community to continue to be built and for students to feel a connection to their classmates, even if it’s through virtual means,” he added. “I hope that by seeing fellow classmates instructing and sharing, we can continue to feel a sense of an uplifting common experience separate from the more sobering common experience that we are all living through right now with COVID-19.”

Killingsworth said that the Whitman Virtual Campus gives students an opportunity to share their talents or teach others new skills in video form. The website also connects students to the Creativity Commons — a place for students to share artwork, poetry, crafts, recipes and more. While nothing will be quite able to replicate the community of on-campus events, he hopes that students will be able to find community and support through these resources.

Colleges will be facing a “new normal” for a while — but that isn’t stopping the Whitman community from coming together to support each other, even from miles away.