The members of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s teen art group had just formed a bond and were gearing up for their final project when all gallery programming was halted in response to COVID-19.
The Code Switching collective had been meeting every two weeks since October and coordinator Becky Thiessen was determined not to let that time together go to waste.
“What a bummer, right? To just end in such an abrupt way when we had these really great ideas and we were planning our final exhibition,” Thiessen said. “And so I just was thinking, ‘How can we remain connected in a good way that we can still share and contribute and make art in a whole new context?’”
On March 20 she provided each of the 10 members with a sketch book and has since been giving them drawing prompts to keep their creativity flowing while they self-isolate in their homes. Thiessen’s been posting those art works on the gallery’s ArtLab Facebook and Instagram pages.
Thiessen’s assignments ask the group to reflect on life during COVID-19. Some prompts include “draw your view outside your window,” “who would you want to be quarantined with?” and “what’s your favourite quarantine food?”
“Right before this happened I made an effort to stock up on hot Cheetos,” said 14-year-old participant Nina Bintner. “It’s like my favourite food and they’re really good and I made a drawing about that.”
Works in the COVID-19 series include these two untitled drawings by Code Switching participants Hailey Fraser and Ross Gray (from left). pic.twitter.com/PvghJpJVu7
— Josef Jacobson (@JosefJacobson) April 2, 2020
Thiessen said it was important for the group to create art around the coronavirus because it’s a major world event worthy of documentation. She said it’s also a good way for the youths to recognize and share the thoughts, feelings and emotions they’re going through.
“Hopefully we can come together and have an exhibition at some point and I think [it’s] a great way for society to see how this experience has affected teenagers, because they’re at such a pivotal development point,” she said.
Thiessen said she feels like the digital space allows the teenagers to be more open and vulnerable than they would be face-to-face. The group is coping with the pandemic with some humour, temporarily renaming themselves the QuaranTeens and even putting together a playlist of QuaranTunes.
“We have a group chat to talk about all this … and it’s really nice to be able to be distracted for like 15 minutes or an hour and just disconnect,” Bintner said.
Code Switching member Ross Gray, 17, said with everything else cancelled “it feels good to be a part of something” and stay connected while isolating. He said in the future he’ll look back on the work he’s doing now and the feelings and memories will all come back.
“It’s very much historical,” he said of the pieces he’s created. “They’re going to have my drawings in exams in like 50 years and be like, ‘Analyze this drawing.’ You never know.”
Those with inquiries about the Code Switching program can reach Thiessen at firstname.lastname@example.org.