By Regina Stracqualursi

2020 has thrown the world for a loop. An unprecedented health challenge like COVID-19 exposed many vulnerabilities in the way we live and work each day. Suddenly faced with social distancing, many people across the globe had to adapt and approach their hobbies, careers, and studies in new ways.

The pandemic affects people who rely on in-person communication even more greatly. On our own campus at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, artists and musicians quickly found new ways to work collaboratively and showcase their work to the broader community.

A group of students enrolled in Creative Seminar this spring had to completely rethink how to present their work to the public after their exhibition in downtown Troy was canceled due to “New York on PAUSE,” a statewide shutdown that began in late March to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Claudia Sanchez ’20, a recent graduate of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, led the curation of a virtual exhibit, in the form of a website called Hindsight 2020. The exhibit was both a way for the students to celebrate the culmination of their studies at Rensselaer as well as help others during a trying time.

“Art is a really great way of calming oneself,” said Sanchez. “I hoped that the Hindsight 2020 exhibition would do that to others.”

Those enrolled in Composition Seminar, a course where students often create their first major music composition, had to make similar adjustments amid the pandemic. Typically, students enrolled in the course write works for an ensemble to perform at an end-of-semester concert; however, in light of COVID-19, Assistant Professor Matthew Goodheart instead had the students write works for solo instruments, which were then recorded.

Rensselaer students Lucas Houchins-Miller ’22, Kevin Mackenzie ’21, Michael Savini ’20, and graduate student Leo (Hyun Jung) Chang ’25 quickly adapted to a combination of online class meetings and private lessons.

“The students are so resilient, and they each took huge leaps forward in their skill and musical expressiveness,” said Goodheart. “I think the quality of their work speaks to how well they can adapt and even grow during such a difficult time.”

Like Sanchez, Goodheart believes that art holds immense power as a coping mechanism as people adjust to a “new normal” as a result of COVID-19.

“Focusing on creating a work of art is a great way to process things,” said Goodheart. “It’s not that these works are ‘about’ COVID-19, but rather that creating a work of art gives you a place to put your energy that is positive and constructive, and truly makes the world a better place in a time of difficulty.”