Stanford University supports creative community during COVID-19 pandemic

Members of the Stanford campus community have responded with music ensembles and podcasts to a grant program created by the Office of the Vice President for the Arts to cultivate artistic engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Projects ranging from musical ensembles and painting classes to podcasts and videogames are among the first recipients of grants designed to cultivate artistic engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Creative Community Response Grant, created by the Office of the Vice President for the Arts (VPA), is intended to foster creative expression that can connect people at a time when the campus community is geographically dispersed. The program has been spearheaded by Anne Shulock, assistant vice president for the arts, and is still open to proposals.

The idea for the grant program came quickly after the university started restricting campus events in early March and then asked students to leave campus, all in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. VPA generally awards grants tied to on-campus activities and in-person arts experiences, but when the university became a virtual environment, it was clear that there needed to be a different approach to grantmaking.

"With the disruption and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Vice President for the Arts wanted to support the many members of the Stanford community who are feeling the deeply human need to express themselves and connect with others by making and sharing art," explains Shulock. "The works and experiences that emerge will show the beautiful, personal, experimental and unexpected ways that our community is finding solace and strength through collective creation."

A central tenet of the grant is that the art created should be publicly accessible, which for the most part means the projects take place online and can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

The grants continue to be open to students, faculty and staff and will be awarded on a rolling deadline until May 10.

Below are four projects bringing the Stanford community a little closer even as people must remain far apart.

Podcasting from an empty campus

The Comeup Collective launched its first podcast on March 11, 2020. Its four members, Garry Archbold, Mamadou Diallo, Mekhi Jones and Sheck Mulbah, all seniors, wanted to create a platform for people of color to share their experiences at Stanford.



"First-generation and low-income individuals typically aren’t allowed to take on creative ventures like these because they must prioritize financial security. We are here to show folks that they can do both."



Stanford, but in Minecraft

Michael Byun, Kyle Yu and Jainil Sutaria, all sophomores, have been recreating the Stanford campus as an online multiplayer game. Palm trees, the Main Quad, Green Library, they’re there, but all on a screen and built with the unmistakable block-like shapes of the Minecraft videogame.



"It provides a familiar feeling place for Stanford students to gather virtually, perhaps helping restore some sense of normalcy during the quarantine. It could also be used as a platform for events. Prospective students might visit the Stanford Minecraft world to get a sense of the campus."



Stanford recorder choir welcomes all

In the face of the postponement of live music making, a group of students including Julie Fukunaga, ’20, Olivia Popp, ’21, Merlin MacGillivray, ’20, Michael Svolos, ’20, Kalea Woods, ’20, and Omar El-Sabrout, ’19, are organizing new virtual opportunities for musical collaboration with the Stanford Recorder Choir.



"Our emphasis is on inclusivity. We want people to have access to playing in a musical ensemble no matter their experience or inexperience with music. We think it is extremely important for everyone to have a creative outlet during this time, so everyone is welcome, especially those with no musical or other artistic background."



Painting your mantra

Sonia Garcia, a master’s student in design impact and a Knight-Hennessy Scholar, began painting at home and posting photos of her work on social media. Now, she hosts painting workshops online in Spanish and English.



"This project is meant to remind people that we are all in this together. I want to help form a new community rooted in self-expression, authenticity and acceptance."



The Comeup Collective launched its first podcast on March 11, 2020. Its four members, Garry Archbold, Mamadou Diallo, Mekhi Jones and Sheck Mulbah, all seniors, wanted to create a platform for people of color to share their experiences at Stanford. By the second episode, posted on March 21, they were podcasting from a largely empty campus.

"We discuss topics related to college lifestyle, identity and community. First-generation and low-income individuals typically aren’t allowed to take on creative ventures like these because they must prioritize financial security. We are here to show folks that they can do both," says Jones.

The first episode focuses on the students’ personal stories about growing up in working-class and impoverished neighborhoods. Through friendly rapport and playful barbs, they probe each other’s identities, reference and dismantle stereotypes, express frustrations and gratitude, and, in the end, provide an unfiltered glimpse into their lives.

"We want to build a community for people who have similar experiences, whether they are first-generation college students or professionals who have had nontraditional paths and are navigating cultures and spaces that their parents didn’t," says Jones.

After Stanford required all undergraduate students to move off campus for the spring quarter, provided they were able to, the four Comeup Collective members were allowed to remain, in socially distant living quarters. Now podcasting at Stanford from a safe distance, with new microphones purchased with funding from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant, the Collective offers firsthand insight into what sheltering in place during COVID-19 is like for students who remain on desolated campuses and cannot return home.

"Our podcast naturally opens up the discussion to these new COVID-19 realities like home and food insecurity of loved ones, mental and physical health, and overall well-being," says Jones. Through the lens of their lives, they shine a light on communities that face increased hardship during this time. Their podcast is a document of life on a very quiet campus that still thirsts for self-expression, new voices and community-building. Their record of this point in history will remain as an important firsthand account of the physical, psychological and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episodes are released on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcast, with additional video components found on their YouTube channel. The next episode will be posted April 26 and the following episodes will be released every Saturday through mid-June.

The Comeup Collective launched its first podcast on March 11, 2020. Its four members, Garry Archbold, Mamadou Diallo, Mekhi Jones and Sheck Mulbah, all seniors, wanted to create a platform for people of color to share their experiences at Stanford. By the second episode, posted on March 21, they were podcasting from a largely empty campus.

"We discuss topics related to college lifestyle, identity and community. First-generation and low-income individuals typically aren’t allowed to take on creative ventures like these because they must prioritize financial security. We are here to show folks that they can do both," says Jones.

The first episode focuses on the students’ personal stories about growing up in working-class and impoverished neighborhoods. Through friendly rapport and playful barbs, they probe each other’s identities, reference and dismantle stereotypes, express frustrations and gratitude, and, in the end, provide an unfiltered glimpse into their lives.

"We want to build a community for people who have similar experiences, whether they are first-generation college students or professionals who have had nontraditional paths and are navigating cultures and spaces that their parents didn’t," says Jones.

After Stanford required all undergraduate students to move off campus for the spring quarter, provided they were able to, the four Comeup Collective members were allowed to remain, in socially distant living quarters. Now podcasting at Stanford from a safe distance, with new microphones purchased with funding from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant, the Collective offers firsthand insight into what sheltering in place during COVID-19 is like for students who remain on desolated campuses and cannot return home.

"Our podcast naturally opens up the discussion to these new COVID-19 realities like home and food insecurity of loved ones, mental and physical health, and overall well-being," says Jones. Through the lens of their lives, they shine a light on communities that face increased hardship during this time. Their podcast is a document of life on a very quiet campus that still thirsts for self-expression, new voices and community-building. Their record of this point in history will remain as an important firsthand account of the physical, psychological and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episodes are released on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcast, with additional video components found on their YouTube channel. The next episode will be posted April 26 and the following episodes will be released every Saturday through mid-June.

Palm trees, the Main Quad, Green Library, they’re there, but all on a screen and built with the unmistakable block-like shapes of the Minecraft video game. Michael Byun, Kyle Yu and Jainil Sutaria, all sophomores, have been recreating the Stanford campus as aná online multiplayer game.

Minecraft allows players to create or modify their virtual environments. Players can build worlds (think homes, castles, cities), create personal avatars, and play out and star in imaginative digital scenarios. Most important, there is no real objective to the game. In other words, there is no one way to "win" at Minecraft. This has led to the creation of myriad worlds - including, most recently, a digital Stanford for those students who found themselves unexpectedly leaving campus early, as well as for old and new visitors to the university.

"It provides a familiar feeling place for Stanford students to gather virtually, perhaps helping restore some sense of normalcy during the quarantine," says Byun. "It could also be used as a platform for events. Prospective students might visit the Stanford Minecraft world to get a sense of the campus."

The project aims to engage new students as they encounter Stanford through the digital world. It also brings comfort to current students who are no longer on campus. "We would consider this project a success if people visit the world and learn from it or find meaning in it," says Byun.

With funding from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant, Byun, Yu and Sutaria will rent a server and launch Minecraft Stanford. Their current funds will cover one month of costs and if the project becomes popular, the three will seek further help to keep Minecraft Stanford alive.

In the meantime, they have already started building, but in true Minecraft form, they will not be the only ones laying down digital blocks - any player can help. The "real" Stanford, the one made of sandstone and red tiles, will remain largely dormant while a new digital Stanford awakes. Built by students, Minecraft Stanford may not be able to replace the real thing, but it will provide a peek into what students, most of whom are far away, want to remember about campus, want to continue to experience and want Stanford to become.

Spring quarter 2020 will look unlike any other in the university’s history. But thanks to Byun, Yu and Sutaria, people can still take a stroll down Palm Drive, soak up the sun in White Plaza and even go fountain hopping, no towel required.

Palm trees, the Main Quad, Green Library, they’re there, but all on a screen and built with the unmistakable block-like shapes of the Minecraft video game. Michael Byun, Kyle Yu and Jainil Sutaria, all sophomores, have been recreating the Stanford campus as aná online multiplayer game.

Minecraft allows players to create or modify their virtual environments. Players can build worlds (think homes, castles, cities), create personal avatars, and play out and star in imaginative digital scenarios. Most important, there is no real objective to the game. In other words, there is no one way to "win" at Minecraft. This has led to the creation of myriad worlds - including, most recently, a digital Stanford for those students who found themselves unexpectedly leaving campus early, as well as for old and new visitors to the university.

"It provides a familiar feeling place for Stanford students to gather virtually, perhaps helping restore some sense of normalcy during the quarantine," says Byun. "It could also be used as a platform for events. Prospective students might visit the Stanford Minecraft world to get a sense of the campus."

The project aims to engage new students as they encounter Stanford through the digital world. It also brings comfort to current students who are no longer on campus. "We would consider this project a success if people visit the world and learn from it or find meaning in it," says Byun.

With funding from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant, Byun, Yu and Sutaria will rent a server and launch Minecraft Stanford. Their current funds will cover one month of costs and if the project becomes popular, the three will seek further help to keep Minecraft Stanford alive.

In the meantime, they have already started building, but in true Minecraft form, they will not be the only ones laying down digital blocks - any player can help. The "real" Stanford, the one made of sandstone and red tiles, will remain largely dormant while a new digital Stanford awakes. Built by students, Minecraft Stanford may not be able to replace the real thing, but it will provide a peek into what students, most of whom are far away, want to remember about campus, want to continue to experience and want Stanford to become.

Spring quarter 2020 will look unlike any other in the university’s history. But thanks to Byun, Yu and Sutaria, people can still take a stroll down Palm Drive, soak up the sun in White Plaza and even go fountain hopping, no towel required.

With all ensembles unable to rehearse or perform in Stanford’s performance spaces, COVID-19 has drastically changed the performing arts landscape on campus and beyond. In the face of the postponement of live music-making, a group of students including Julie Fukunaga, ’20, Olivia Popp, ’21, Merlin MacGillivray, ’20, Michael Svolos, ’20, Kalea Woods, ’20, and Omar El-Sabrout, ’19, are organizing new virtual opportunities for musical collaboration with the Stanford Recorder Choir.

Originated in 2018, the ensemble was forced to go digital in the spring quarter but retains its core tenets. "Our emphasis is on inclusivity. We want people to have access to playing in a musical ensemble no matter their experience or inexperience with music," says Fukunaga.

The recorder, an instrument that can be picked up fairly quickly and that many learn in elementary school music classes, proved to be the perfect tool to unite students with a wide variety of musical backgrounds. On the questionnaire for prospective choir members, the organizers describe the ensemble’s communal ethos: "We think it is extremely important for everyone to have a creative outlet during this time, so everyone is welcome, especially those with no musical or other artistic background."

The COVID-19 Creative Response Grant will support the purchase and delivery of high-pitched recorders (sopraninos), traditional recorders (sopranos) and lower-pitched instruments (altos), and the choir will meet and rehearse online. Students with more experience will coach those who are new to the instrument, and all participants will work together toward a final, digital concert of originally arranged songs.

In a time when performance has become impossible on the Stanford campus, the recorder choir project has the goal of showing that anyone can be an artist and that, even through social distancing, music can bring people together.

With all ensembles unable to rehearse or perform in Stanford’s performance spaces, COVID-19 has drastically changed the performing arts landscape on campus and beyond. In the face of the postponement of live music-making, a group of students including Julie Fukunaga, ’20, Olivia Popp, ’21, Merlin MacGillivray, ’20, Michael Svolos, ’20, Kalea Woods, ’20, and Omar El-Sabrout, ’19, are organizing new virtual opportunities for musical collaboration with the Stanford Recorder Choir.

Originated in 2018, the ensemble was forced to go digital in the spring quarter but retains its core tenets. "Our emphasis is on inclusivity. We want people to have access to playing in a musical ensemble no matter their experience or inexperience with music," says Fukunaga.

The recorder, an instrument that can be picked up fairly quickly and that many learn in elementary school music classes, proved to be the perfect tool to unite students with a wide variety of musical backgrounds. On the questionnaire for prospective choir members, the organizers describe the ensemble’s communal ethos: "We think it is extremely important for everyone to have a creative outlet during this time, so everyone is welcome, especially those with no musical or other artistic background."

The COVID-19 Creative Response Grant will support the purchase and delivery of high-pitched recorders (sopraninos), traditional recorders (sopranos) and lower-pitched instruments (altos), and the choir will meet and rehearse online. Students with more experience will coach those who are new to the instrument, and all participants will work together toward a final, digital concert of originally arranged songs.

In a time when performance has become impossible on the Stanford campus, the recorder choir project has the goal of showing that anyone can be an artist and that, even through social distancing, music can bring people together.

Sonia Garcia, a master’s student in design impact and a Knight-Hennessy Scholar, has felt firsthand the loneliness of sheltering-in-place for weeks on end. Over the course of her solitude, she has turned to meditation, journaling and, finally, painting. Throughout each activity, she has found herself repeating a mantra, "Live this day," "Live this feeling," "Live this uncertainty."

"I recalled that one of my favorite Puerto Rican artists, PJ Sin Suela, has a song called ’Live This One,’ with the same theme of letting go of worry, accepting the present simply for what it is and just living in it," explains Garcia. "That’s when I started painting that phrase, ’Live This One,’ with paint supplies and paper I had lying around my apartment."

Painting the phrase in English and Spanish (vivelo) and sharing her work on Instagram, Garcia explained the concept to her followers. She offered to create and mail paintings for anyone who requested one, and found overwhelming interest in her project.

"People loved the idea and began suggesting that I teach others how to paint in their own homes. I thought this was a great idea because I used to host well-being paint workshops for students on campus. Now, I am creating a video paint workshop in English and Spanish where I can teach others how to create their own masterpieces. As a Latina, it was very important to me that I create something that my family and community back home could engage in."

With support from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant to buy paint supplies, Garcia will produce live and pre-recorded painting workshops to help forge connections in a time of ongoing uncertainty. "This project is meant to remind people that we are all in this together," says Garcia. "I want to help form a new community rooted in self-expression, authenticity and acceptance."

Sonia Garcia, a master’s student in design impact and a Knight-Hennessy Scholar, has felt firsthand the loneliness of sheltering-in-place for weeks on end. Over the course of her solitude, she has turned to meditation, journaling and, finally, painting. Throughout each activity, she has found herself repeating a mantra, "Live this day," "Live this feeling," "Live this uncertainty."

"I recalled that one of my favorite Puerto Rican artists, PJ Sin Suela, has a song called ’Live This One,’ with the same theme of letting go of worry, accepting the present simply for what it is and just living in it," explains Garcia. "That’s when I started painting that phrase, ’Live This One,’ with paint supplies and paper I had lying around my apartment."

Painting the phrase in English and Spanish (vivelo) and sharing her work on Instagram, Garcia explained the concept to her followers. She offered to create and mail paintings for anyone who requested one, and found overwhelming interest in her project.

"People loved the idea and began suggesting that I teach others how to paint in their own homes. I thought this was a great idea because I used to host well-being paint workshops for students on campus. Now, I am creating a video paint workshop in English and Spanish where I can teach others how to create their own masterpieces. As a Latina, it was very important to me that I create something that my family and community back home could engage in."

With support from the COVID-19 Creative Response Grant to buy paint supplies, Garcia will produce live and pre-recorded painting workshops to help forge connections in a time of ongoing uncertainty. "This project is meant to remind people that we are all in this together," says Garcia. "I want to help form a new community rooted in self-expression, authenticity and acceptance."


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