Community Conversations: COVID-19 and the Arts

Posted on October 28, 2020 by Hannah Silverstein

Provost Helble spoke with campus arts leaders about adaptations and engagement.

Watch the Oct. 28 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble; Mary Lou Aleskie, the Howard L. Gilman '44 Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts; Walter Cunningham Jr., director of Dartmouth Idol and the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir; and John Stomberg, the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art.

Student performance ensembles have found "silver linings" as they have adapted to virtual formats during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walter Cunningham Jr. said during this week's Community Conversations webcast. "We've been able to rise to the occasion."

The webcast is designed to let community members hear directly from campus leaders about Dartmouth's priorities, decisions, and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cunningham, director of the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir and of Dartmouth Idol, joined Provost Joseph Helble; Mary Lou Aleskie, the Howard L. Gilman '44 Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts; and John Stomberg, the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art, for a discussion of how students and the broader community have been connecting with art this fall—and what the community can look forward to as the academic year continues. The four fielded viewer questions in a conversation moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.

Aleskie says she expects virtual programming to remain a staple of the Hop's offerings even when in-person performances resume. "This experience has fundamentally changed us forever," she said. "And that's a good thing—it increases accessibility."

Arts Adaptions

Aleskie said online programming has allowed the Hop to expand its audience beyond Hanover. "Right now, over 50% of our audience for Hop@Home, which is the virtual stage that we created, comes to us from beyond the Upper Valley," she said, adding that "10% comes from international communities. Alumni, students, parents of students—all coming together in a way that we wouldn't be able to convene if we were in the Hopkins Center only."

Among its offerings this fall, the Hop has hosted virtual events with CNN anchor Jake Tapper '91, filmmakers Phil Lord '97 and Chris Miller '97, and Daily Show host Trevor Noah. And beginning this week, the Hop is launching in-person Tent Hop programming, offering music, movies, and crafts.

Stomberg described a similar experience at the museum. "The Hood is not just a place, it's an idea—an experience—and there are lots of ways to get that Hood experience," he said. "We have discovered that the virtual isn't ersatz. It's a really amazing experience. It has allowed us to include a much broader audience."

In addition to virtual programming, faculty have been able to stream classes in the Bernstein Center for Object Study's three classrooms using the museum's collections. ("We like to joke that it's now the BBC—the Bernstein Broadcast Center," Stomberg said.) Students can now schedule personalized tours of the Hood for groups of up to five students. And the Hood continues to promote Dartmouth's outdoor public art, which is accessible to everyone on campus.

Cunningham spoke about plans for this year's Dartmouth Idol, which he has directed since 2008, often to overflow audiences. This year's version will be virtual, as well. Students have been submitting audition recordings for the semi-final competition, which airs at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, on the Hop's YouTube channel. Viewers will vote for six finalists who will compete in a series of episodes airing throughout the winter term, along with video compilations taking audiences behind the scenes.

"Again, the silver lining of virtual is that we're not limited by the confines of our in‑person shows," Cunningham said. "We want folks to not only be able to take part of the actual end goal of the show"—selecting a winner—"but also we want to give them insight into the making and the process, which can be incredibly entertaining."

Asked how he motivates students in a virtual environment, Cunningham said, "Involvement in art performance is motivating in and of itself. We are the differentiation for the students. And I try to tap into the activism aspect of what I'm doing, personally. I try to make it about what is the impact that particular offering of music or art has, and hopefully tapping into deeper sense of purpose in their work."

Campus Updates

Helble provided an update on Dartmouth's COVID-19 testing regimen, which has shown a positivity rate of "just under 0.03%," with 98% of the College's quarantine and isolation capacity still available.

But, he said, "Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. Through the efforts of everyone in the Dartmouth community, by continuing to take precautions against the virus—masking, handwashing, social distancing, limited gatherings, and regular surveillance testing—we can continue to be outdoors, continue to see one another at a distance, and to maintain some semblance of human connection in an incredibly challenging year."

Helble encouraged students to vote in next week's election, noting that students are able to register to vote throughout the day of the election. Students may also volunteer as election workers "as long as they remain masked and socially distanced" and stay within the communities outlined in the Community Expectations, he said. Information on the election can be found on the Dartmouth Guide to Election 2020

Because voting will take place in Leverone Field House, there will be no COVID-19 testing at that location Monday, Nov. 2, or Tuesday, Nov. 3. Testing hours will be extended on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of next week to accommodate the change. The voting site, which is being run by the town of Hanover, has been moved from its usual location at Hanover High School to Leverone for COVID-related public health reasons.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to the winter term, Helble said that all upper year students who requested on-campus housing in the winter term have been accommodated. The COVID-19 task force and the dean of the College have been looking at ways to expand indoor social and study spaces, and to provide a variety of outdoor activities.

Arrival testing for winter term residents will be the same as in the fall, with tests on arrival and on the third and seventh day on campus. New in the winter, all students and staff on-campus will be tested twice per week.

Additionally, Helble said, students and staff members will be expected to get flu vaccinations.

Asked about the budget, Helble said, "We have pretty good understanding that the winter quarter is going to look like fall term. The great unknown is spring. We are anticipating that spring quarter will have the same reduced, 50% undergraduate enrollment"—but if there is progress on vaccine development, for instance, "I want to hold out hope that it might be different and better. Time will tell."

Among the other topics discussed in Wednesday's broadcast:

  • President Philip J. Hanlon '77 has expanded the annual winter break by three days. "Dartmouth will close starting Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, and remain closed for two full weeks, through Friday, Jan. 1, 2021," except for essential personnel, Helble said.
  • The Tuck School of Business has canceled its spring TuckGO travel programs.
  • A decision about undergraduate off-campus programs for spring will be announced by Thanksgiving, though Helble acknowledged that "the chances that spring term international travel will be supported are fairly small."

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next webcast, scheduled for Nov. 11, will feature President Hanlon.

Past episodes are available on the Community Conversations site, which includes call-in numbers for those who want to listen to the show without video. Find out how to watch or listen to the live webcast.

For the most recent information on Dartmouth's response to the pandemic, visit the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website.


Written October 28, 2020 by Hannah Silverstein