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When In-School Artist Residencies Go Virtual

How Pau Quintanajornet and Mallory Zondag Kept Creating Art & Connecting with Their Students as the World Changed

pau-1 BETHLEHEM, PA–When Teaching Artists Pau Quintanajornet and Mallory Zondag launched their artist residencies, they were thrilled to work side-by-side with nearly 200 students at two Bethlehem Area School District elementary schools, sharing their passion for the arts and teaching the children how much of an impact creativity can have on the learning process. Quintanajornet, a world-renowned muralist from Germany, worked alongside Tiffany Anderson’s fifth grade art class to develop the first-ever exterior mural at Donegan Elementary School, while fiber artist Zondag and Miller Heights Elementary School Art Educator Jayne Preletz’s art class were creating a “Living Wall,” featuring a variety of small, fiber art pieces including vines, rocks and other natural elements. Both residencies, each intended to be 6-8 weeks long, were presented by ArtsQuest’s Banana Factory and made possible by a grant from The Borgenicht Foundation. While both residencies got off to solid starts, the learning process changed overnight in early March, with classes cancelled throughout the school district and later the Commonwealth. Due to COVID-19-related school closures, the artists’ and students’ visions were altered substantially. Working diligently, both Quintanajornet and Zondag buckled down and continued the projects to ensure the students’ hard work came to fruition – Zondag from her home studio in upstate New York and Quintanajornet from ArtsQuest Resident Artist Devyn Briggs’ studio, where she was staying while in the U.S. The question became how to continue engage the classes when they couldn’t get together in person? The Donegan project was especially challenging as students were tasked with creating their own tiles that would all be put together in one mural once completed. Although they were able to finish a good portion of the tiles while at school, Quintanajornet still had to create several tiles after the school closures. To combat the challenges brought on by social distancing, Quintanajornet and Anderson held video calls with the students, offering fun projects that they could do at home, like creating flowers with home-found materials. Quintanajornet also kept her students in the loop about how she was adapting to finish their project, which will now be installed at a date to be determined. Compounding the situation, Quintanajornet’s world was in a state of flux. After coming to the U.S. in large part to work on the mural with the Donegan students, she was caught between a rock and a hard place as travel restrictions were implemented both here and in Germany due to COVID-19, delaying her return home by several weeks. Before departing on April 24, however, the artist – known for her Project Wallflowers global mural initiative - left her students with one last reminder of her visit, providing them with a custom-crafted coloring book featuring all of the panels they had created for the mural. Anderson is sharing the book with the students and it’s also available for anyone to download, color and share at ArtsQuest@Home presented by BSI Corporate Benefits. “Right now, the mural has such a powerful additional meaning - it is a sign of hope and empowerment,” Quintanajornet says. “It is a moment of blooming and reclaiming your power back.” Zondag and Preletz have kept their students involved in the “Living Wall” project through video calls and sharing photos and videos of the progress. Both instructors felt that continuing the work was incredibly important to show students that the world can and must go on. “People are still going and the world is still continuing in the midst of this. We’re still working, we’re still active, we’re not giving up on anything,” Zondag says. “The Living Wall continues and it will be finished with the same amount of love and joy that it was going to be. “Even though there is something terrible, scary and strange that we’re all going through together right now, that doesn’t change what we are doing or how we act with each other.” Zondag has also kept her hands busy in other important pursuits as well. While social distancing from her studio, she has created several hundred masks to donate to those working on the front lines during the epidemic. Her work is part of an initiative being led by the Troy, N.Y-based Arts Center of the Capital Region in collaboration with The Turban Project. “It felt like something I could do to try and help in this crisis, so I started sewing nonstop,” she says. “I've been both donating and selling masks to help pay for materials for the past several weeks.” For more information on ArtsQuest’s school residency program, visit www.bananafactory.org.