Just Do It, Hit the Register Button 

Cicely Ogunshakin, a 7-8th grade Social Studies teacher at School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens, reflects on her experience in the Phillips-UMD Prism.K12 course. The student artwork produced from the course is shared in the Community Exhibition The Virtual Classroom as Artspace.

When I signed up for this course, I really didn’t expect it to be so good. My past professional developments had been kind of dry with few takeaways that I could implement in my class, but I was excited to learn about different ways I could  integrate art into my classroom. There were some other benefits as well—professional learning units (PLUs), a year membership to Phillips, the ability to network with other educators, and the class would be 100% virtual. These all made it easier to hit the register button.

I admit that when I received my art supplies in the mail, I was immediately giddy. Crayons, markers, construction paper, colored pencils, a couple of sharpies, glue sticks and some other art materials made me feel like a kid again.

On the first day, we were thrown into an ice-breaker activity in an attempt to set the pace and tone of the course. It was a strategy called Soundscape in which we had to examine different parts of a painting and make sounds related to the painting. In this picture there were horses, carriages, a pier, an ocean, and a family with a dog. Sounds of Nahhhhhaaa, swooshhhhh, clop clop clop, stomp stomp stomp, ruff ruff, and so on, filled our virtual space. We were grown adults on a Zoom call making these sounds, actually practicing this strategy to be able to bring it alive in our very own classrooms.

Screenshot from Week 1 course presentation.

The foundation of our class was based on the Prism.K12 strategies of Identify, Connect, Express, Empathize, and Synthesize. As we progressed over the weeks, I was intrigued to experience how each lesson was relatable and applicable to all of the teachers. Our Facilitator, Hilary, made it look simple. Each week, I left the virtual class excited and feverishly searching The Phillips Collection to see what I could use to implement this strategy in my own classroom.

Part of the class required that you complete a Core Project. I decided to focus on an upcoming unit, The American Revolution. The goal was for students to use the 7-Word Story Strategy to express their ideas, thoughts, and emotions through art and words. I gathered some historic protest images from the Internet and had students examine one of those images.

As they examined the images, they answered these questions:

  • -What do you see?
  • -What do you hear?
  • -What do you feel?
  • -What do you think?
  • -What do you wonder?

I also had them think about the photographer’s perspective and whether a person could tell a compelling story based upon the image(s).

Here are are some of the 7-word stories that my students created:

  • -Screaming, running, woman distressed, wrong unjust death ​
  • -Preferences respect me, respect you respect LGBTQ  ​
  • -Humans, the Earth’s protection and inevitable destruction
  • -Let me be ​who I want. Free.
  • -Dreamers and believers are dying in sorrow

For the exit ticket students had to add 7 more words that presented a possible solution for the same image. They also had to include a visual. Students had the option of completing this activity on paper or digitally.

Examples of student artworks with their 7-word stories, 7-word solutions, and a visual.

My students enjoyed this lesson. They analyzed and shared ideas through collaboration. They learned about other protest movements through images, reflecting on the artist’s work and purpose. They used key words to describe an image and they added 7 more words to identify a solution, all while expressing themselves through their artwork. My students were excited to share their creations and receive compliments from their peers. Using this activity changed the whole mood in my class, which was great since we were in virtual mode and have been virtual since last year. So if you are wondering whether or not to click register, just CLICK IT! You will not be disappointed.

Phillips Music Goes Virtual (Part II)

All of the concerts of our 80th season of Phillips Music are being presented online. In the second of this two part series, Director of Music Jeremy Ney shares insights on how the performing arts world has adapted to virtual concerts. Real Part I here

Timo Andres and Rachel Lee Priday performing in Andres’s home. Register for the broadcast on March 7!

How has the concert world adapted to the digital space?
2020 saw many musicians and artists turning to the digital space to present their work. This ranged from professional recordings in empty concert halls to home-spun DIY recordings using basic equipment. Some artists, like pianist Igor Levit, built a huge following for his daily house concerts, which offered comfort and respite from worldwide lockdowns in 2020. Other artists, like pianist Timo Andres (who appears on our series on March 7), replaced cancelled career-defining moments (Andres was set to give his Carnegie Hall solo recital in 2020) with virtual realizations that offered an intimate portrait of creative adaption. The overarching message in the performing arts seemed to be: don’t let the circumstances defeat you, find ways in which such restrictions can hold generative potential to do something new.

How do your musicians feel about performing virtually?
Well, it clearly does not replicate the experience of performing for an audience. Audiences are the lifeblood of performances; performers thrive off their presence, their enjoyment, their love of the music being played. There’s a reciprocal exchange that happens in the communion between artist and audience and so the absence is just that: an absence, something you miss and hope will return soon. We all long for the day when we can bring audiences back safely to enjoy the thrill and vitality of live performance.

All musicians are different though and some take to the virtual space with greater ease than others. Some musicians treat a virtual concert like the live experience, and if it is being pre-recorded (which is increasingly prevalent), then they do one take to preserve that freshness of the moment. However, others like to return to specific passages to repeat them and treat the experience more like a session in a recording studio. Both have their merits but are very different approaches. Regardless of which mode an artist adopts toward virtual performance, I think it is safe to say that everyone I’ve worked with hugely misses the energy that is created with a live audience.

Is there any advice you have for an audience member new to virtual performances?
My advice would be to try to invest the same degree of patience in a virtual performance as you would (or did) when we were all able to gather in-person. While the digital realm presents many possibilities, we know that that digital attention spans are notoriously short. There are obvious reasons for this: we live in a visual culture and the internet-age has flooded our lives with a constant stream of visual imagery. Saturation has demanded economy, and often the advice in social media circles is to keep video content to no more than 60 seconds, which doesn’t get you very far into a concert! So, I would urge a virtual performance audience member to look at the concert experience as something different to the bombardment of visual ephemera that we all experience every day, to look upon the experience as something to delve into, be captivated by, to lose yourself in. That’s what we strive to put into the world.

Phillips Music Goes Virtual (Part I)

All of the concerts of our 80th season of Phillips Music are being presented online. In this two part series, Director of Music Jeremy Ney shares the trials and tribulations (and perks!) of presenting our acclaimed Sunday Concerts virtually for the first time. Read Part II here

Recording Stella Chen and Albert Cano Smit in the Music Room. If you missed their performance, you can still stream it on the concert page.

Tell us about the transition to virtual events. What were some of the challenges you faced/are facing?
2020 was a hard year for the performing arts across the board. The goal posts kept shifting, and so one of the primary difficulties was when to decide to go virtual. Everyone across the country, and even arts organizations in DC, were doing things differently, finding solutions to their own unique challenges. However, it was important for us at The Phillips Collection to continue to present our series, and not abandon it until we could have in-person audiences again. This season is our 80th anniversary, which aligns with The Phillips Collection’s centennial year—these are major milestones and thus, it was important to pivot toward new ways of presenting.

It has been a hugely enjoyable process to go digital this year, though there are definitely some pitfalls. If you don’t already have the infrastructure in place to support filming and presenting online concerts, then the learning curve is pretty steep. You have to identify funds for new equipment, look at staffing capacity and skills gaps, negotiate new issues around concert logistics, onsite protocols, music licensing, which online platforms to use, ticketing—the list goes on. You also have to look at how to do this sustainably for your institution without over-stretching budgets at a time when all organizations, cultural or otherwise, are having to respond to the impacts of the pandemic.

Lastly, the digital realm presents lots of new opportunities in terms of format and reaching new audiences. When you only have a small performance space like we do at the Phillips (our Music Room has a capacity of 140 people), then digital platforms can really help drive interest in the work we do. Despite the difficulties of changing everything you have done before, this is to be embraced. Even when we return to some version of “normal,” the digital element is not going away—so it’s best to understand and get to grips with that landscape now.

Tell us about your process for presenting digital concerts at the Phillips?
I think the Phillips is in a unique position; we have an intimate space surrounded by outstanding visual art. It was important to capture the special nature of the Music Room as faithfully as we could. That meant: high quality equipment. Working with local videographer Dominic Mann we invested in three Canon C200 cameras, which have the capacity to film in 4k. We also got to grips with the software and hardware needed for live-streaming events, which is becoming the norm. Luckily we already have outstanding audio engineering from our long-time engineer, Ed Kelly, who has recorded concerts at the Phillips for many decades.

Editing Stella Chen and Albert Cano Smit’s performance in Adobe Premiere Pro

In three months our small team has created work that I’m personally really proud of. A typical concert day first entails our Concerts Manager Abigail Winston and I getting the artists here safely and ensuring protocols are followed onsite. We record performers in the Music Room during a 4-5 hour session (typically). Ed Kelly then masters the audio, usually working on it late into the night, having it ready for the next day. Videographer Dominic Mann then starts to synchronize the audio to the video footage using Adobe Premiere Pro. Dominic puts the major scaffolding of the project together for me to then begin the editing process. The editing process is usually very involved, switching camera angles as “musically” as possible to create a visually rich experience. Sometimes the most minute edits are required, stitching together small fragments of music from one cut to the next. Color correction, graphics, cross-fades, pacing—all key to giving a performance the best look and feel that you can. When you have outstanding performers doing what they do best, you feel a keen duty to capture that in the highest possible quality.

How as the engagement been?
The initial signs of growth in audience engagement have been very encouraging. For January and February, there has been a 300% increase in concert attendance for digital performance vs in-person performances. In seven concerts we have had over 3,000 people sign up to attend—if those concerts were in-person, we would have been able to welcome 900 people max. We’re also able to engage global audiences, with over 1,000 views from countries around the world. The digital realm has also allowed us to expand our partnerships locally and globally—in February, the London Symphony Orchestra published a Phillips Music performance on their YouTube channel that reached 1,400 viewers in a week. We’ve also managed to increase our social media footprint, with almost 25,000 views on Instagram for our concert clips.

Stay tuned for more from Jeremy Ney about Phillips Music going virtual.