UF’s Arts & Crafts Center Connects With Students Despite COVID-19

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University of Florida’s Arts & Crafts Center has quickly adapted from COVID-19 setbacks and is on a mission to do whatever it takes to connect with students just as before.

The Arts & Crafts Center, located in the Reitz Union at UF, closed all in-person activities back in March in accordance with the university’s COVID-19 protocol. Before the Arts & Crafts Center closed its doors, it was a place in Gainesville for artistic expression and community for students and staff alike. The studio is most known for its paint-a-pot opportunity, which allows people of all artistic abilities to make art by painting their own pottery. It also allows for creating ceramics, jewelry, paper crafts, paintings and more. Now, as classes and projects have transferred to socially distant models, leaders have strived to maintain the community online.

Mariana Baquero, an arts specialist at the center, described the differences and challenges in adapting arts content for distanced learning and creating.

“This is not something that I had any experience in,” said Baquero, who has worked there for four years. “So, there was definitely a learning curve involved in that, like figuring out how to place the camera so people could see my hand and what I was doing.”

Making marbled pinched bowls was one of the take-home art projects offered by the Arts & Crafts Center while patrons were unable to come into the studio. (Photo courtesy of the Arts & Crafts Center.)

Although no one can fully predict what the fall semester may look like, the Arts & Crafts Center has made tentative plans for all contingencies. According to Baquero, they are prepared for a number of situations in which they could teach virtually, in-person or through a hybrid model, like giving out at-home craft kits — like a do-it-yourself marbled pinched bowl —  for students to take back to create back at a apartment or dorm.

Baquero has been assisting the Arts & Crafts Center along with her colleagues by sending out a weekly newsletter, which included  a craft of the week and original homemade craft tutorials on YouTube.

“We were able to get some of that sense of community back by doing these virtual programs,” Baquero said. “They weren’t ideal. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than nothing. I think it surprised all of us how much we could do virtually.”

For Baquero, adjusting virtually has been an important part of the community and connection that is so foundational for the Arts & Crafts Center.

“We want to connect with students as closely away as we’ve been connecting with them in person,” Baquero said. “We want them to know that we’re still here, virtually, that we’re still here for them.”

Hannah Cain, the student supervisor at the Arts & Crafts Center, had similar thoughts about the arts community.

“The thing I think I enjoy the most about the ACC would be the atmosphere,” Cain said. “The people are all super friendly, both the staff and patrons. I think it allows for creativity to be nurtured because you can be working and start up a conversation with the person next to you and learn a new technique or trick by observing or asking questions about their work. I like that the ACC fosters a safe-feeling environment where you’re not afraid to try new things with your art.”

For now, people interested in the participating virtually can find more information on the Arts & Crafts Center’s website or join the newsletter mailing list. Currently, the staff at the Arts & Crafts Center is working on a soft reopening so that members can pick up art, use some of the facilities and take home craft kits.

About Makenna Young

Makenna is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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