The pandemic created unique challenges and opportunities for the art world and arts education, as a conversation with one educational leader reveals.
Executive Director, College Art Association of America (CAA)
As everything from museums to galleries to universities were forced to close or go completely virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic, arts education took a big hit. Educators and institutions alike had to learn to adapt, and fast. But according to Isimeme Omogbai, the executive director of the College Art Association of America (CAA), these challenges might have presented opportunities in disguise.
“Just like how a muscle is built through resistance, creativity is often born out of challenging circumstances,” Omogbai pointed out. After all, don’t they say that necessity is the mother of invention? And it’s true that some of humanity’s greatest artistic masterpieces were inspired by times of great tragedy.
“The pandemic has tested us all in innumerable and unanticipated ways: everyone has had to do more with less and reimagine even the most basic functions to meet constantly shifting parameters. This has hit educational and nonprofit art institutions particularly hard,” Omogbai said. “But at the same time, I believe this constriction of time and resources has strengthened the arts. It has forced us to reexamine our purpose and to chart a path toward a more resilient future.”
Keeping culture alive
When museums, theaters, and classrooms closed their physical doors they opened online ones instead, exchanging in-person experiences for virtual, and making the arts more widely accessible in the process. According to Omogbai, the art world’s commitment to keeping culture alive serves as an example of the best ways in which institutions have survived and even thrived during the pandemic.
“From my perspective, those in the arts have led this charge forward with their responsiveness, creative problem-solving, and community building. This past year, the communities, support systems, and solutions that have emerged even just among CAA’s membership have been inspiring,” she said, praising the ingenuity with which leaders in the arts rose to the challenge of digitization. “Educators, museum professionals, and scholars resourcefully pooled their efforts to create virtual exhibition tours, rig up at-home recording studios for teaching techniques, and conferenced online to collaborate with experts even from a continent away.”
It’s this kind of collaboration and inclusion that will allow the arts community to grow and for more opportunities to become available. For example, Omogbai notes that her organization’s core progressive values have made it a leader in highlighting women’s contributions to the art world and arts education. “In 1972, a meeting for women members at the 60th annual conference sparked the establishment of the Committee on Women in the Arts (CWA), which formalized the association’s advocacy for the scholarly study and recognition of women’s contributions to the visual arts and art history,” Omogbai said.
And the organization is continuing that work today. “Coming full circle, a significant portion of our 2022 annual conference will feature women-centered content, with several sessions reviewing and revising women’s history in art. The conference will also include other programs and initiatives highlighting members’ roles as advocates for feminist activism in art and academia.”
While the challenges of the pandemic may have seemed insurmountable at first, they may have helped make arts education stronger than ever. And it also showed us just how important the arts are to our lives even, or especially, at the worst of times. “More than ever, this past year has proved that the arts are essential for coping with adversity and finding creative ways forward,” Omogbai said.