By Nina Tabios
Once a week, as the Academy of Art University’s Spring 2020 semester commenced online, a new video series brought together student stories from various corners of the pandemic.
Some baked banana bread. Others showed how to make DIY face masks at home. Instructor Manny Ramos had his students provide weekly health tips including how to properly wash their hands and take deep meditative breaths to stay calm. There were segments spotlighting unsung heroes within students’ respective communities, while others shared personal experiences—one student, Niki Tan, documented her entire journey home back to China.
That’s just a taste of the featured content on “Art U Zoom,” a news magazine show produced by students and faculty from the School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM). Organized by COM Director Jan Yanehiro, Associate Director Steve Kotton, and instructors Richard Hart and Dianne Fukami, “Art U Zoom” was designed as a platform for students as they sheltered in space. Regardless of the topic or where they were shooting from, COM faculty hoped the series could provide a continued sense of community during a time of isolation and uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of shared commonality and anxiety,” said Fukami. “And we wanted to have a forum to express that and let everyone know that what they were feeling was more of a universal experience than it was a unique one.”
Fukami teaches video storytelling and had to adjust her assignments to adhere to shelter-in-place guidelines. Under these new conditions, students started to put together different snapshots of life during quarantine, which were a perfect fit for “Art U Zoom.”
Undergraduate senior Bree Cates captured what it’s like for her young nephews to continue schooling at home and the challenges that parents in similar situations face. Another report by senior Fabian Barcena covered the generosity of a family-owned local market feeding people in need with the help of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner.
Organizers also received submissions. Rabah Houhali, a member of the Urban Knights track and field team, sent in a video of the gut-wrenching moment when the team found out nationals had been canceled due to the pandemic.
“The priority was to get as much diversity as possible, both from within the school and also in terms of different kinds of voices being heard,” Fukami said. “As the submissions came in, I looked through them to make sure we had inclusion on every level that we put.”
Putting everything together was Shampayne Clay, a Fall 2011 graduate and COM studio production and editing manager. Inspired by how classes now looked over Zoom, her goal was to replicate that in the show. Gathering all the packages and organizing them into a grid took around three-and-a-half hours to edit, but the fun part was seeing what students were coming up with on a weekly basis.
“It was always a surprise,” said Clay, admiring their creativity. “‘Art U Zoom’ is a way to prove that if you’re creative, you’ll find a way to tell a story—whether you’re stuck in the house or not.”
Ramos, who had his on-camera performance students provide a Stay Healthy Tips segment, echoed this sentiment. He assigned a topic each week and the best video earned a spot on “Art U Zoom.” To him, the show was “informative and educational because students learned from it.”
“Since the department was closed down, it gave them a creative outlet to put things together,” he said. “I thought it gave our students a chance to not just practice what we’re taught, but also to develop [the work] to see it up someplace.”
In light of a new normal, Academy students didn’t shy away from using their skills and creativity for good in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some 3-D printed face covers for frontline workers, others sewed masks by hand for underserved communities. Talented illustrators chronicled their experiences and feelings into comics. And for the trained multimedia storytellers and content creators from COM, “Art U Zoom” was their way to put their talents to use during this time of crisis.
“I’m hoping that the students realize that there’s a place for video storytelling. It doesn’t have to be fictional, it doesn’t have to be at a time that’s convenient for them. But it’s important to be there, to be present and to document things during a crisis,” Fukami said. “I think it’s important that students and young people be heard and know that they have a forum to be heard. And I was very fortunate to be able to steer some of that.”