Corcoran’s non-degree arts program will remain on hiatus amid COVID-19 pandemic

Media Credit: Sophia Moten | Staff Photographer

Faculty and students involved in the program said officials have yet to provide them with a firm timeline for the end of the hiatus.

As a pandemic-induced hiatus continues into the academic year, officials said it may take more than a year to restart the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s non-degree student arts program.

Officials suspended the Continuing Education program, which teaches various art and media classes to non-degree students in the District last fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauren Onkey, the director of Corcoran, said the program will continue its hiatus as the school focuses on safely reopening and monitoring classrooms for returning faculty, degree-seeking students and students taking courses for credit.

“We want to take this time to consider how to best serve the D.C. community as well as coordinate a safe reopening for these students,” Onkey said in an email.

She said the school decided to keep its exhibitions closed and restrict in-person instruction to students taking courses for credit because of ongoing safety concerns despite the return to in-person classes for the rest of campus.

Onkey said the school is “strategically” considering how to carry out the program’s goals and scope during the off-period, which may take up to a year. She said Corcoran officials are taking time to ask the program’s students and its community members what they would like to learn and study to best serve the arts in the District.

She said the program enrolled about 50 to 80 students per semester before the pandemic and hosted classes like oil painting and digital photography. Onkey, who began her role as Corcoran’s director this July, added that officials will work with the program’s part-time faculty to create new programming after the hiatus.

“I have a long history of developing and managing education and community programs and want to make sure community efforts like this one get the time and attention they deserve,” she said.

Faculty and students who took classes in the program said officials have yet to provide an update about when the Continuing Education program will resume, leaving them concerned about the program’s future and the value it brings to the District.

Tom Morris, who taught drawing in the program, said Continuing Education provided the local community in the District with an opportunity to learn and polish its art skills through various art classes. He said the program welcomed all adults interested in learning about art, improving a specific skill set or exploring a new field.

“Art is about gaining perspective,” Morris said. “It takes a little while, but it encourages people to see the big picture of life and how one thing influences another thing.”

He said the program should restart because its offerings provide adults a chance to take classes inside of a school environment again.

“All your life you practice, but when you go out in the world you deal with the situation, tend to appreciate learning more and I think maybe the program helps with that,” Morris said.

Mira Hecht, a District-based artist who taught advanced abstract painting in the program, said while halting the program was a “good decision,” she thinks the hiatus could lead to a permanent cancellation because she hasn’t heard any information from administrators about its return.

She said the hiatus announcement was an “abrupt” end to the program when ongoing classes came to a full stop, and students received refunds for the second half of the semester when the rest of the University transferred online. She said her students missed the physical space of the studios and in-person collaborations during isolation.

“Many of us had a real appreciation and love for the history of the Corcoran and really felt good about attending classes there just because it was the Corcoran,” Hecht said. “I think it was trenched with a lot of sadness, and so what can you do?”

Hecht said Continuing Education should resume if officials are willing to put more effort into the program, like offering classes for credit and advertising them to the local community to make the program more “vibrant.”

“If they could get it back to the way it was when the Corcoran had it before they took over, I think it would really be wonderful for the community because I know it was a one-of-a-kind program,” Hecht said.

Lindy Kerr, a former student of the oil painting class, said the program reinvigorated her childhood passion for oil painting after a nearly fifty-year break from the hobby. She said she learned new techniques and skills, like botanical drawing, from the program’s classes that she took every so often for the past few years.

“The Corcoran program speaks to those who have an artistic energy in them, but their jobs don’t let them express it,” she said. “I would say it’s a wonderful opportunity to do just that.”

Kerr said she is thankful for the program because the art classes she took provided her with a “new avenue of expression” since retirement. She said officials should restart the program because the courses allow people to pursue their interests if they are interested in art but their main work is in another field.

“It expanded my horizons, and I learned so much from the program,” Kerr said. “I can’t say enough good things about it.”

Anna Burger, a former student who took digital photography at the program, said she was looking for photography classes as an adult after spending some years out of school before she came across the program and its variety of art classes in 2014. She said the photography class she took helped her develop skills, like using light and exposure settings, and made her view photography as more of an art form than another form of media.

She said she was disappointed when the program announced its hiatus and wondered whether the temporary cancellation was an excuse to close the program.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing what they would do with the hopes that they would reopen the classes,” Burger said. “Otherwise, it will be a sad loss for the community and for people like me.”

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