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Art Students Initiate Collaborative Project Unifying Students Remotely

During an unusual semester, art students Jeffery Hampshire and Amelia O’Neill seek a sense of community by simulating Open Studios online

At the end of every typical semester, the BYU Art Department holds an Open Studios event for its students. Friends, family, and members of the larger community are all invited to walk through art students’ personal workspaces to view their current work and works-in-progress.

But this is not a typical semester.

This is the second semester that routines and rituals have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After an abrupt end to in-person learning and gathering in March, winter semester closed with a sense of disappointment for art students who had been looking forward to participating in Open Studios. This time around, BFA student Jeffery Hampshire and MFA student Amelia O’Neill hope to contribute to a sense of normalcy and community by creating a virtual platform for Open Studios to take place.

The Origin of Online Open Studios

Early in November, O’Neill read in a text for her business practices class about the advantages of Open Studios, including exposure to influential members of the art community. Discouraged by the prospect of missing out on yet another Open Studios opportunity, she texted Hampshire about her idea to move the event online. Hampshire, who is in the process of developing a separate online exhibition space for university art students in Utah, was immediately on board.

After garnering the support of the department, Hampshire and O’Neill approached visiting artist and instructor Madeline Rupard, who helped organize an online show for COVID-19 relief in May of this year. Using the open source site, Hampshire, O’Neill and Rupard are building an online space that will simulate student studios as accurately as possible. This space will be the site of the semi-annual reception for faculty and students, and the exhibition will also be made available to the public. After viewing each submitted work, faculty members will award grant money for selected BA, BFA and MFA students.

Between O’Neill’s first text message to Rupard about artsteps on November 11 and the date of the Open Studios reception on December 10, the team had less than one month to build a virtual exhibition. “We’re coming down to just a few weeks away,” said Hampshire before Thanksgiving, “but why not push for it? I don’t think we should wait until next year to have everything figured out. I think this is the first version of something that might turn into something even better.” For students who are unable to participate in physical classes or events this semester, holding a virtual Open Studios allows them to still feel connected to their program and community. BFA student Madyson Ysasaga, for example, will be participating remotely from her home in Houston, Texas. In 2017, Ysasaga received a double lung transplant due to complications from cystic fibrosis, and she now takes numerous anti-rejection medications that essentially put her immune system to sleep and make her highly immunocompromised.

“It’s just not a wise or safe or a good time for me to go back to campus right now,” said Ysasaga. “Thankfully, I’m able to complete my art degree remotely and meet normal milestones or experiences that are part of the program, apart from the classroom setting.”

In addition to including students who are living away from campus this semester, Fidalis Buehler, the faculty advisor for this project, said that a virtual space invites a larger audience. Family, friends, prospective students and community members who are separated from the show by distance, health or physical impairment now have the opportunity to view student work from the comfort of their own home. 

Putting Business Practices into Practice

In facilitating a virtual exhibition, Hampshire and O’Neill have applied skills they learned in their business practices class, taught by Rupard, who encourages artists to create their own opportunities. Part of spearheading this project means entreating the assistance of faculty and classmates so that it is ultimately a collaborative community effort. “That is where art business practices really happen,” Rupard said, “when you see the wealth of the resources of people and connections and relationships around you, and you build on that.”

Although Rupard and Buehler have been the most directly involved in helping build the exhibition, Hampshire and O’Neill noted that many faculty members have expressed support and a willingness to help however they can. Associate Professor Christopher Lynn said he is proud of the students for stepping up and organizing themselves. During a semester when socializing has been a challenge, this event provides an opportunity for students to practice talking about their work and build their artist networks beyond the classroom.

“I feel empowered that we can do this,” O’Neill said. “It’s not as hard as it seems. It’s not difficult to get people together. This experience makes these situations seem possible.”

The Open Studios reception will take place via Zoom on Thursday, December 10, from 5 to 6:50 p.m., and is open to members of the community who register using this Google form.  To view the exhibition, visit