Sarah Austin ’21 performs her senior voice recital, alongside accompanist Dr. Tomasz Robak. Photo by Eric Keith

By Kelsey Chase ‘24 (she/her), Staff Writer

In the midst of the pandemic, seniors both at home and across Davidson’s campus have been diligently working on their senior theses and capstones, attempting to encapsulate what they’ve learned over the past four years into a singular project. For most electing to do honors, their majors require a paper, which they now have to defend over Zoom. However, for arts majors, the pandemic presents unique challenges to presenting their exhibitions, as they now must account for social distancing, masks, and capacity limits. 

Each of these factors has significantly impacted how Lee Kromer ‘21 planned to present his production.Working at the intersection of his French & Francophone Studies and theater majors,Kromer synthesized his analysis of a play by Molière into his own production. Before the pandemic, he had intended to do a non-honors thesis. After consulting his advisor, however, he realized an honors thesis “would be a good way to combine both of my majors.” 

Live theater has changed significantly due to the pandemic. Kromer said, “I can only have ten audience members. Certain spaces aren’t available to me. Bringing outside artists is a lot more difficult because they have to get approved by the COVID team. Space is a lot harder to find, and money is harder to find. If there’s one thing about theater, it’s that it costs money.” 

Kromer has learned to work with social distancing restrictions, ensuring that the actors stand six feet apart during the production. While the production has “taken up the vast majority of [his] life in the past few months, because of both the focus on the actual product itself and logistics due to COVID,” Lee’s found that people have been more willing to help due to a shared sense of empathy and understanding. 

For Adrienne Lee ‘21, who held her exhibition Ode to Self virtually on March 10th, the daily walks she took as one of the few students who remained on campus after last March provided inspiration for two of her projects shown in her exhibition. As a studio arts major with a neuroscience minor, the branches of the trees surrounding her reminded her of the neurons present in our brains. As explained in her artist statement, “Each work serves as an inquiry, revealing the artist’s inner notions of ethnicity, nomadism, and adaptation,” demonstrating the influence that her “nomadic childhood due to moving roughly every three years” had on her collection. 

Her experience of creating an exhibition during COVID has taught her “patience and battering down [her] ego,” as she found “time to take a deep breath.” One of the major restrictions she experienced was being unable to go to France, where she intended to work with a sub-branch of The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). However, she was still able to attain funding from a Dean Rusk grant, which allowed her to work on her piece from her dining room table. She said of the experience, “I’m glad that I secured that grant, because I wouldn’t have been able to even go beyond the limitations.” 

Adrienne described herself as the “guinea pig” for the studio arts exhibitions, because she went first; she found that she was “glad that it was virtual because then it’s also recorded, so you can invite people outside of Davidson, as well as [in] other countries.” While “it was a little sad, because normally it’s this great event that I’ve dreamed about since first year,” she wants others to know that “the visual arts department is doing everything they can to make it a successful event; I had fun.” 

Sarah Austin ‘21, a music and english double major, decided on a recital to display a combination of all the music that she’s worked on in her voice lessons in the past four years. Her performance, which took place on March 7th, did not require her to wear a mask and allowed for a few masked audience members. Initially, she was prepared to perform with a mask and without an audience, but “once cases went down this semester, the COVID response team adjusted the limitations, so while it didn’t go as expected before the pandemic, it was better than I expected in January.” 

“I chose to do a recital because I wanted to showcase all of the work that I’ve done in the last four years, and because I always went to the recitals that seniors did and I always looked up to them and wanted to do it myself someday,” said Austin. One of her biggest challenges was preparing for a recital with empty audience seats, and she found that she had to find a reason within to perform beyond the audience’s reaction. She said, “The pandemic gave me a lot of time to think about what motivates me beyond other people’s appreciation of me, so I got used to doing something just because I liked it and not because other people think it’s cool, which is something I really value.” Although Sarah ultimately did have a few audience members, she found that she sang because “of what was beautiful to me in the music.” 

Each of the experiences of these seniors reflect beauty found in the arts amidst a long pandemic, which has presented each of them with obstacles to navigate. Although their senior years look different from what they’d envisioned as freshman, the pandemic has proved, as Adrienne says, “Art is resilient and being an artist is about being resilient.” As they finish up their projects and graduation comes upon them, they will each leave Davidson having created beauty in the face of adversity.