As people on the internet post hilariously awkward senior portraits in solidarity with the high school classes of 2020 — who are being deprived by COVID-19 of signature high school moments like prom and graduation — a different cohort of grads are also feeling left out: the 2020 BFA and MFA candidates, whose culminating shows have been canceled or stalled out by the pandemic. While everyone recognizes that public health and systemic stability are higher concerns, it would be impossible for artists not to feel disappointed by the loss of their grad shows, after dedicating themselves to these rigorous and costly programs of study that often tout the exhibitions as their crowning opportunity to launch into the art world. In a touching TikTok video, artist and Washington State University MFA candidate, Azzah Sultan, encapsulated the devastation experienced by these losses.
Luckily, artists are inherently creative, and alternative grad show exhibitions have begun to spring up like mushrooms after a hard rain. Most of these are leveraging the virtual tools to which many a creative-class industry has pivoted over the last weeks, to keep the wheels on while physical infrastructure is untenable. While many universities and arts organizations struggle to create overarching policies and practices that address the concerns of their entire student bodies, individuals have taken swift action to support MFA grads.
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Image: installation by Kim Karlsrud at UM Stamps Gallery