By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While it’s easy to focus on how much kids are enjoying (and parents are not) their nearly three-month vacation from school, there are many special events they are missing out on. But while you’ve likely thought about graduation, prom and other events for high school seniors, the Medfield Public Schools Student-Faculty Art Exhibit was a victim of COVID social distancing protocols, as well.
But rather than let what would be the 25th annual year of the event be cancelled completely, Zullo Gallery Executive Director Bill Pope and Medfield Schools’ Kate Jones (who also has a mixed media piece in the show) worked hard to move the event from the gallery to an online format. This was a lot of work for both, with Jones having to work with the teachers from all the schools to gather and photograph the pieces, and Pope having to learn an entirely new software to put a show online.
Luckily, the show was supposed to be in April, so the teachers were reasonably far along in their preparations for what the show would have been.
“The show was supposed to be in April, if it was physically possible,” Pope explained, “but obviously, that was cancelled. It was during April that Kate Jones, who is head of the art department, and I started to have the conversation if it was possible to have an online show. Since the art exhibit was supposed to be in April, the teachers were well sped up by March 11th or 12th, whenever the first day of school was cancelled, so the teachers were pretty well along in their preparations. But I think the big thing was to make sure the work was photographed well, so that the artwork looked great. Teachers either had enough images of their kids’ work that was selected, or I think in some cases teachers were allowed back in the building to pick up a few things.”
One of the things the teachers did was to write captions explaining why they chose the piece, and what the class was working on. Most of the time, the text explains the work was inspired by another famous artist or a style the class was emulating. Many of those captions will send all but the most ardent art historian to Google.
Pope had never held a show entirely online, so much of his work was figuring out how coordinate it. He had some help from a Medfield student named Amanda O’Grady, but there was still a learning curve for him.
“That was another thing from my side … we have a website, but it’s not really set up to handle an entire show with slides and information and everything. My challenge was to find a program that would do a great job simply and easily at presenting an entire exhibit online, so through a photographer I know who uses a program called SmugMug, I learned how to do it. It took a while for me to figure out everything that goes into it, then me and Amanda loaded the information, and it all came together.”
The result of the work is a show of around eighty-pieces (Pope didn’t want to expand the number, despite not having the spatial limitations of a physical show), featuring a variety of mediums like photography, mixed media and oil painting.
The piece Pope most wanted to point out was a work from Sarah Lautz called “Safer Inside” that shows an eye hiding behind a door in a land of flowers, with a bunch of creepy arms reaching from outside. Time-wise, this piece has to have been done before the coronavirus really took hold, which makes it crazy how prescient it is. Lautz's image greets visitors to the Zullo Gallery's website, before clicking through to the show.
As for the Zullo Gallery, Pope wouldn’t commit to whether he would be holding more shows online, noting that he’s hoping to hold the Mass College of Art and Design professional freelance studio class’ show in person this July and August. The gallery's Facebook page, however, is holding live music events on Thursdays. And in this time of crisis, people have stepped up and sought to help the gallery, even when that aid wasn't directly solicited.
“We have been streaming live music every other Thursday, so if people go on our Facebook page this Thursday, we will have some live music. We are looking forward to the Mass Art physical show and having people back in the gallery. A lot of people, completely unsolicited, sent in checks supporting the gallery, just thinking we’re going through a rough time - which we are, along with all the other businesses - but wanted to make sure we were okay, keep the lights on, weather the storm and make sure we survive. Financially, we don’t have any income coming in, per se, and so these were extremely well appreciated and very helpful.”