From concerts to theatre, Ryerson creatives adapt during COVID-19

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By Abeer Khan

The transition from interacting in person to dealing with COVID-19 restrictions has been an issue to tackle for many arts-focused groups at Ryerson.

Housing and Residence Life’s Black in Residence, a group of Black students who try to support and create events for Black students living on campus, are using art to bring together students through a virtual showcase.

“The Black population and peoples of colour in residence are really small, so there’s not a lot of spaces for them to just get a spotlight to talk about what’s important to them and share their work,” says Zanele Chisholm, a third-year English student and an organizer of the event. 

To adhere to social distancing restrictions, the group is hosting “Residence Jam Digital Slam,” a virtual spoken word showcase open to Black Ryerson students on Sept. 3. 

“We just want to be proactive in creating those spaces and making sure Black students know that they’re important to us, and that we care about their art, and that we want to hear them.” 

Chisholm believes that building a strong community of BIPOC students would be helpful in facilitating change and starting conversations about BIPOC experiences. Chisholm hopes this event will be a space for Black students to build stronger relationships with each other and find a sense of community. 

“Community is where conversation starts,” she says. “That’s why it’s important to constantly be making the effort to make a community.”

Chisholm believes art is a great way to foster this community because of its ability to bring people together in a positive way and connect on a deeper level.

“It’s  a connecting point. I feel like everybody loves art. And it’s also such a personal thing for people. So I feel like you get to be vulnerable when you are showing your art or you’re looking at someone else’s art,” said Chisholm. “You automatically get a little bit closer and automatically create that type of connection that’s a bit special.”

For Michael Kang, president of Musicians@Ryerson, a semester online will change the way the group interacts with each other. 

“Community is where conversation starts”

Going into his final year, the mechanical engineering student reminisces about how welcoming the club’s office was during the semester when members were able to drop by to chat, join in on small jam sessions, and meet new people. 

“That’s how you build a sense of community,” says Kang. 

Musicians@Ryerson is a student group that aims to bring together musicians across Ryerson through their events. Last semester, Musicians@Ryerson held a virtual open mic night to emulate their weekly open mic nights which are usually held at Ram in the Rye. Open mic nights were the group’s most consistent and engaging events where anybody who loved to listen to and play music was welcome prior to social distancing requirments.

With the fall semester online, there will be many changes to how the group will operate. Kang says he’s looking at continuing open mic nights virtually once the semester starts. He stresses the importance of having spaces where musicians can do what they love. 

“Musicians and artists don’t really have the kind of outlets they used to,” explains Kang. “[The open mic nights] are a large part of how we engage and how we connect with each other.” 

In Ontario, many theatre and concert venues have remained closed during Stage 3, unless they are drive-in venues.  However, drive-in concerts and theatres are gaining popularity across the city as people long for creative outlets and experiences. Earlier this month, Toronto artists DVSN held drive-in concerts from Aug. 7 to Aug. 13 at the CityView Drive-in in Toronto, while July Talk performed two shows at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Sharon, Ont.

Students at the School of Image Arts (IMA) at Ryerson must work around limited access to necessary equipment. Unlike other programs at Ryerson that will not allow for any on-campus activity, IMA will allow students to enter the building at reduced capacities. 

Samantha Jackson, a fourth-year photography student and the president of the IMA Course Union, says that the school has divided access to the building for students so that there is a low flow of traffic. She says that each year will have three designated days to use the building and its facilities each week. 

Jackson says that while these changes work for her, since she doesn’t plan to use the more advanced equipment IMA has to offer, she is aware that many of her peers are disappointed in their limited access to equipment like high-end drum scanners. 

High-end drum scanners are used to develop film and their cost can range between from $11,000-$65,000. According to Michael Strickland Images, they capture an image with analog light, producing the most detail possible and then convert it to a digital file and are used to develop film. 

Limited access means that some students may have to consider paying out of their own pockets to produce their work on top of paying full tuition that is supposed to cover these costs. 

“We were missing a lot of things in terms of what we would be learning”

While many creative industries have come to a halt due to COVID-19, Jackson also mentions the support and encouragement she and her classmates receive online from program alumni.  

“A lot of graduates are encouraging and saying, ‘We’re working in the industry right now, it’s not as awful as you think it is!’ It gives you an opportunity to learn about making safer sets, and being sustainable and implementing all these changes.”

However, the School of Performance Course Union president Fahed Altaji  says that it is unjustifiable that students, especially in hands-on programs, must still pay regular tuition costs. He remembers the past semester, when many students were unable to participate in end of year shows, and hopes that the quality of education delivered online, increases in the fall. 

“We were missing a lot of things in terms of what we would be learning,” says Altaji, when discussing the end of the winter term. “I personally didn’t find that easy and I know my peers and my classmates didn’t find it easy either.”

Jackson says she hopes her faculty will be willing to provide accomodation and listen to feedback. 

“I think it’s really important to have genuine conversation and genuine communication,” says Jackson. “Even if there isn’t much to say ‘Hey, you know, we appreciate your patience and we understand’ …just offering support.”

Kang hopes that the online based fall semester wont continue in the winter. “If we’re not able to be on campus after December, things may get a little bit hard.”

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