Challenging times call for creative thinking and innovation—both of which Penn State Altoona’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair (URCAF) has in abundance. Moving the Fair to an online venue this year was necessary, but it brought some unexpected benefits. Not only are the exhibits available for more than just one morning, but with online viewing visitors can watch and reflect on the video submissions in the Exhibition category at their own pace.
For his final project for History 203, through the Honors Program, junior Gabe Hayes created an animatic story, Legacy. “The original project,” he says, “was to create a short story about a monster of our own making.” His is a dark tale where “a mysterious beast terrorizes a small wilderness civilization. When the creature’s rampage threatens the future of his tribe, a lone hunter is tasked with finding and destroying the monster.”
In animatics, artists create storyboards and a soundtrack as part of the preparation for what should eventually become a movie. As an LAS major, Hayes combines courses in the visual arts, IST, and English to coincide with his theme, “Artistic Storytelling through Digital Media.” All three subjects came together in this project. “I don’t usually work in animation,” he says, “but before this project I’ve had some experience with stop-motion animation. As a self-taught artist in multiple media, I’ve also studied traditional animation quite heavily, but this project was my first large-scale experiment in that sort of art form.”
Hayes’s instructor, Associate Teaching Professor of History Steven Andrews, has nothing but good words about his “incredibly diligent” student. Over the semester, Andrews says, “the class exposed Gabe to a cavalcade of historical and modern-day imagery that always sought to connect and conjoin with each other. This created an atmosphere from which creative energies could be actualized and expressed.” The class studied subjects ranging from the travels of Alexander the Great and Beowulf to Mary Shelley’s monster, George Orwell, and even “Carl Jung’s investigation of the UFO phenomena. There was much else. Students are to inculcate and to create in this atmosphere.” And Hayes certainly did create—you can watch Legacy here.
Seniors Gary Weyandt and Andrea Regalbuto began their Visual Art Studies (ART 465/466W) capstone projects last fall by working with Distinguished Professor of Visual Arts Rebecca Strzelec. “My role was to lead the students through their formal senior exhibition proposal, which takes them through several weeks of ideation, concept, logistics, promotion, and assessment of their artwork,” Strzelec says. “It is a lot of writing, revising, and justification of what they want to say and how they want to say it through their art.”
Strzelec notes that this in-depth level of work has benefits far beyond the college classroom. “We keep the process formal with significant amounts of documentation in order to prepare them for various application processes once they graduate (exhibition proposals, grant proposals, commission calls, etc.),” she explains. “It isn’t easy but when the proposal is complete it serves as a map for the students. They refer to it constantly when they lose their way or need to remind themselves what the goal of the work is.”
After all that preparation in the fall semester, in the spring COVID-19 changed everything. Associate Teaching Professor for Visual Arts Susan Marie Brundage, instructor for ART 466W, worked with Regalbuto and Weyandt to deal with the changes. She says, “One of the objectives of ART466W is to have the senior VAST students mount a solo exhibition in the university galleries for early April. Until mid-March we were planning toward that goal, and then the university announced the change to virtual learning. We had to regroup and decide how the students would adapt their installation strategies to this new reality.”
These were uncharted waters for both students and faculty. “There were issues of identifying a location, having access to materials and technology given the state mandated stay-at-home orders,” says Brundage. “We brainstormed a little as a class, and then I had the students do a written proposal detailing what they were going to do. Gary and Andi had specific ideas for locations that they felt were meaningful in regards to their show concepts. I found it remarkable that they were able to pivot and restage their whole exhibition in such a short amount of time under the current circumstances.”
Gary Weyandt’s senior project is a very personal story: “My exhibition, MEDIAted, deconstructs an argument between myself and childhood friends over Facebook to examine the effects of social media on relationships.” He settled on his subject matter after discussions with his instructors and classmates.
“We were told that the best art is personal, so I poured out all of my inner doubts, regrets and heartaches to my class. We decided that it would be too difficult to address every issue in one show, so I began with what I thought would be the easiest starting point.” In his video, Weyandt narrates his story using illustrations, Styrofoam sculptures, and a vanity and mirror from his childhood home, all exhibited on a school bus. “Illustration allows me to create a world and narrative without too many limitations. This was the best way to convey my perspective and ideas to the general public.”
Andrea Regalbuto’s Flap/Flutter also explores a deeply personal event, a sexual assault and its aftermath. Using art as therapy, Regalbuto applies the “Butterfly Effect, which states that a small change in the environment can have a significant influence on further outcomes, . . . to reflect on events in my own life. My concept is about patterns of events, levels of growth, and faith.” She works in photography and mixed-media arts to tell her story. For her work, Regalbuto won second place in Oral Presentation and Performance at the Undergraduate Exhibition at University Park.
Brundage was impressed with the students’ ability to adapt to the new conditions. “Gary’s use of the school bus as his installation location and Andi’s use of her childhood blanket as a connecting thread for her works gave both exhibitions a richer context that would not have been possible in a traditional gallery setting,” she says. Another bonus to an online exhibit: “As part of their virtual exhibitions, both students created Instagram accounts in addition to their artists websites.”
Strzelec recognizes the efforts of these students in telling such personal stories: “They made work that defined challenging and difficult situations that needed to be out in the world—but just talking about it wasn’t enough. These lasting interpretations of their lives is exactly the kind of work VAST helps students to achieve. Our faculty and staff are incredibly proud of both Gary and Andi. They are more than prepared to hit the ground running in their chosen professional paths.”
The final entry in the Exhibition section of URCAF belongs to sophomore English major Hope Weidemann (adviser Jeannette Lang, instructor in English and interim director of the Writing Commons). Titled “Imperilment: The Untold Stories,” Weidemann’s collection of poetry addresses an incident of abuse in her life. She says, “I began writing poetry to process my own personal trauma because it feels more like an artistic outlet than simple prose or journaling.” Through reading true crime stories as a way to deal with her own experience, Weidemann recognized the injustice afforded to some female victims of violent crime: “Time and time again, major producers of true crime focus on the stories of white victims of crime, often those that are disproportionate to victims of crime such as murder and abuse in America.”
In her poetry, Weidemann wants to raise awareness of the injustice some crime victims face: “My intended hope for the readers of my collection was for them to genuinely learn about minority stories and to represent the scope of the issue proportionately to the epidemic. While true crime is full of white victims, women of color are at higher risks for violence against women, particularly murder, just as at the time of being reported missing they are less likely to be found. I wanted readers to learn while experiencing the emotion of such trauma and violent endings through the language presented.” Her poems can be found here.
While Laura Rotunno, associate professor of English and URCAF coordinator, missed the excitement of the in-person Fair, she was thrilled with the online exhibition. During an in-person year (such as 2019), as coordinator, “I typically don’t get the chance to spend time with each student in the fair. I just get to see snippets of projects or hear about them from other excited and inspired students and professors. This year I had the pleasure of taking time with each project. And, as an Arts & Humanities professor, I was especially pleased to see such a rich array of artistic work this year.”
Rotunno knows that having online access to the videos has its benefits: “The range of emotional and intellectual depth of each of the exhibition projects made it so I couldn’t just watch the videos once or read the poems once,” she says. “I went back to each, catching more nuances in Gabe’s mergers of animation and music, Gary’s choices of materials to reflect his personal evolution, Andrea’s integration of poetry into photos and montages, and Hope’s creation of voices for the silenced.” And Rotunno’s vision for these projects? “My hope is that more people get to spend time with this important work in this public venue and reach out to these creative people. Especially in these days, creativity and community are what we need and I am glad our online Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Showcase might be part of that.”
—Therese Boyd, ’79