Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, art programs worldwide are hurting tremendously. These programs are battling changes and uncertainty despite the world’s seemingly desperate need for entertainment.

Our local arts make no exception, as students and teachers alike at Guntersville High School are struggling with feelings of doubt and fear over the thought of this virus changing everything that they felt was normal over the past few years.

The directors of these arts, Breanna Talley with choir and Valerie Jones with art, are being pelted with these circumstances firsthand, having to not only attempt to deal with the pressures but blindly guide their students through it as well.

The first aspect immediately changed in the teachers’ roles as the pandemic began was physical, concerning germs, contact and space.

“The art room at the middle school has been set up with Plexiglas dividers so that students are protected,” Jones explained in reference to the art side of the program, then mentioning that the mandatory mask rule is still enforced. “All of the equipment that is used must be disinfected at the end of each class. In the past, students shared all sorts of equipment and they may not do that this year.”

In general, any class that is hands-on is extremely difficult to acclimate and evolve to fit the current CDC guidelines.

Talley conveyed her choral group’s changes in how class is continuing. “We are having to spread out, wear masks to sing safely, and I have to ventilate the room every hour or so," she said. 

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Talley continued, reflecting on the classroom’s emotions and challenges while facing the pandemic. “It’s hard to hear students when they’re singing and it’s hard for them to understand me when I’m speaking. A part of choir that is very imperative to include is the shape of your mouth as you sing, and you can’t see that while wearing masks.”

She also shared how studies showed that singing in masks leads to an increased chance of vocal issues, due to overcompensation of volume decrease by trying to sing or speak louder. All factors considered, the arts teachers are trying their best to take control of the challenges being faced, but there is no doubt that the predicaments are not easy to handle whatsoever.

Likewise, arts students are having to evolve with changes alongside teachers, but they are battling anxiety and unfair losses, and it is an especially fearful time for the Class of 2021. Three Guntersville High School seniors and former show choir section leaders, Harper Chassay, Mamie Patton, and Lynley Stricklin, explained their shared struggles during these difficult and unusual times.

“COVID has made my arts experience a completely different world,” Chassay commented, cementing the abnormality of this school year compared to her past years in the arts. Stricklin pushed further with this, explaining how in the past few months she had lost the activities she had always treasured and spent most of her time doing.

“Singing and dancing with my friends was no longer an option,” Stricklin reflected solemnly, “and I realized I had taken so much for granted.”

This virus has strongly affected all aspects of the arts in various and unexpected ways.

“COVID-19 has affected how we learn to sing, dance, and play an instrument,” Patton stated when questioned about changes in the program due to the circumstances. Stricklin added on to the thought while zeroing-in specifically on show choir’s differences, mentioning how the choral group this year has to wear masks and sing with only a small portion of their group at a time.

“It is definitely something we hope we won’t have to get used to,” she admitted honestly.

Any of these choral students can agree that what they miss most about the arts before the pandemic is true human connection from contact. Stricklin responded bitterly to the question, clearly and genuinely missing this aspect. She explained how she specifically missed “how easy it was to create bonds with new people. When you are part of a group, whether it’s in the arts or not, you will create relationships that you never thought you would. This is a lot more difficult when we cannot socialize and touch as much as we used to.”

Chassay attested to this idea and even reflected the same idea in relationships made prior to COVID-19, discussing how “Even though I see my peers in class now, it still feels like we’re not really in our normal environment. I miss getting to run up and hug my friends, and getting to dance and laugh with each other.”

3-year Guntersville High art student Cade Johnson is currently a virtual learner during this pandemic, and he expressed his own personal struggles of being virtual and trying to participate in the arts like normal. “As a virtual student at GHS, I am not in the classroom. This means I am not able to participate in our critiques, which gave us an opportunity to help out classmates and receive feedback on our own work as well.”

Many students like Johnson are facing predicaments regarding the loss of extracurricular experiences due to COVID-19.

Another large aspect that is being threatened in the arts program is the privilege to perform their music or participate in art shows. Alongside Chassay, Johnson can relate to this anxiety-ridden pressure. Johnson commented on this particular effect, saying “These competitions are what we work towards all year, and in my own experience they give us a sense of accomplishment.”

Chassay commented more broadly on the matter, emphasizing how “No performance, rehearsal, or class meeting is guaranteed, and we really have to make sure to take nothing for granted.”

COVID-19 has not only had an enormous effect on the physical changes these students are facing, but it has taken an extensive toll on the hopeful minds and souls of the arts. Chassay responded honestly and spoke for all arts students when inquired on her emotions amid these difficult circumstances. She somberly reflected on how as an arts student and a senior, she has faced a lot of “anxiety and anger” towards the pandemic.

“It’s nerve-wracking to see so many of your favorite experiences taken away from your senior year and feeling like there’s nearly nothing you can do to improve the situation.” Stricklin followed up with her personal battles as well, explaining how the pandemic has made her “overwhelmed and [at a] loss of all motivation.”

Despite feelings of soul-nagging doubt and forced hopelessness, students and teachers alike seem to be battling the dark emotions with endless appreciation and optimism. Johnson explained how his art has given him the exclusive option to express his emotions about the virus through an effective outlet. Commenting on his mindset at this time, he included how “Although life as an art student might be very different not ideal right now, I am trying to stay positive through this pandemic.”

“We’re trying to be optimistic and hope everything in the future goes as planned… we’re hoping everyone can get to sing as a group and perform again,” Talley discussed hopefully, speaking for the choral side of the program. Her students followed the same mindset, noting how grateful they are to be back even with all of the obstacles being hurdled.

“This virus has affected so many people, including myself, but we are lucky enough to at least be back at the school and in our art classes,” Stricklin conveyed gratefully. “We have to make the most of the opportunities we are given! I’m just thankful to be back doing what I love with all of my friends.”

“Everyone seems very optimistic about the situation. I think we are all glad to be able to do the things we love… We are very lucky,” Patton expressed likewise. Chassay attested to this idea, adding on a note describing the determined mentality of the arts by stating, “I think the whole arts department is just trying to remember what the arts are all about: coming together in difficult times and making beauty out of the darkness. Staying positive about that has really helped.”

The Guntersville High School arts program as a whole is facing unpredictable and unfortunately drastic physical and mental changes because of COVID-19, and the challenges are casting a hopeless shadow over students and teachers alike. However, the distant and immensely hopeful chance to have a somewhat normal experience among the troubling circumstances stands above all doubt and uncertainty in the eyes of the choral and art groups. This program has a few more obstacles to overcome and couple more waves to rock over, but their bright optimism will hopefully light the path to normalcy in the arts program once again.

(Kailie Stanichowsky is a senior at Guntersville High School and an intern at The Advertiser-Gleam.)

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