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COVID & the Arts: BHC ArtFusion Magazine

Black Hawk College

Creating art is typically a solitary activity. For Black Hawk College students this spring, it was more isolating than usual, as they worked together – while apart – to produce a 36-page art magazine.

ArtFusion magazine is published every other year by and for visual communications students at Black Hawk College. It features essays, digital drawing, photography, painting, and other student works. When the college’s Production and Pre-press class (about 14 students) went completely online in mid-March – because of COVID-19 – creating the collaborative, full-color publication became a challenge. That's according to art professor Zaiga Thorson.
“That’s one of the things students really missed – not being able to at least meet in person to brainstorm ideas. But they all had already given each other their cell phone numbers and they were communicating that way.”

Credit Black Hawk College
BHC Art Professor, Zaiga Thorson.

Thorson wrote in the magazine introduction that in her 21-year Black Hawk teaching career, this was the hardest ArtFusion edition to design.

“Part of what’s lost is just the camaraderie – communicating with the students. They really just miss being with each other. And what’s always so wonderful, I instruct and show them how to do things, they come up with the ideas. Just the ease of being able to bounce ideas off each other.

“It seemed that things were certainly more cumbersome; you didn’t get that immediate feedback. They learn so much from each other, they really do. I just love it when students in a classroom aren’t coming to me, but they’re bouncing ideas off each other, making suggestions and that’s just wonderful when they are making the learning happen. It was just a really great group of students, too.”

Thorson tried to keep the work lighthearted and use humor, and that’s where the new title of the magazine came from. One of the students said, ‘Well, it feels more like ArtConfusion right now,’ and they agreed. The front and back cover art includes some pandemic references.
Students installed Adobe software on their home computers and posted work in an online content-management system. One, 19-year-old Abigail Kongkousonh of East Moline, was more comfortable working from home since she was home-schooled during high school.

“Overall, it was a really positive experience. The hardest part was definitely communication, specifically with other students we were supposed to work with. 

"Zaiga, she was really patient and responsive. I was really happy with how she handled
everything as the instructor. My favorite part, honestly, was working on things by myself. It was really almost like I was reverting back to homeschool in a way. It was a comfort zone thing for me.”

Kongkousonh contributed a four-page spread she wrote and designed on legendary graphic designer Saul Bass, as well as two artworks – a digital image and a painting with watercolor and colored pencils, influenced by the current pandemic. She said students were pleased with the finished product.

“Considering what we had to work with and the obstacles that were put in place, I am super happy with it. Especially because a lot of the other students we were working with, they had a lot of things on their plate. They had to work, they had to do other things. Some of them had kids, babies, so they were really bombarded with a lot of things during this time and they still got their stuff done, and it looks really great.”

Thorson said the students learned patience, perseverance, and cooperation in these unique circumstances.

“You and I have enough life experience to know life doesn’t always go as planned. With some creativity and problem-solving, we could still make things work.”

You can see the magazine at bhc.edu/ArtFusion2020.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.