Photo courtesy Xavier University Department of Art

Local Universities Honor Their Graduating Art Students Amid a Global Shutdown

Posted on June 22, 2020


Covid-19 interrupted senior thesis shows throughout the region. Here’s how five art departments made do this spring—offering, perhaps, a taste of creative ways universities may have to again adapt in the fall.


The senior thesis show is a rite of passage for art students. It is their moment to show their work and skill—to take their art out of the classroom and to present it, in person, to the public at large. And for many, it functions as their debut into the professional art world. However, the global Covid-19 pandemic struck just a few months into the spring semester, right as these students and their professors were finalizing exhibition plans.

In a matter of weeks, university art departments scrambled to reschedule shows or to retrofit student exhibitions for an online presentation. And despite these trying conditions, the result is a stunning digital record of our hometown talent.

University of Cincinnati
UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) moved to remote learning just before its scheduled DAAPworks show, which is the thesis capstone exhibition, and the MFA at the Contemporary Arts Center exhibition—DAAP’s standing partnership with the local art powerhouse. But department leadership was still committed to the idea of presenting student work, so they built out the exhibition site, DAAPworks.com, as a clearinghouse to host capstone projects from each school, giving them the creative space to present in the most conducive format to their content.

“We chose to have a central site that connects to each school’s chosen platform,” explains Aaron Cowan, Director, DAAP Galleries & Museum Studies. “Each of our schools used a different platform based on the interface and the types of projects they were planning to display.” The School of Art, for example, chose to host its publications for  Master of Fine Arts, featuring 8 students, and Bachelor of Fine Arts, featuring 51 students, on Issuu, which mimics a print magazine layout.


Northern Kentucky University
NKU’s School of the Arts originally scheduled its annual Juried Student Exhibition show at NKU Art Galleries for March 6–April 3. The exhibition, juried by Litsa Spanos, owner and president of ADC Fine Art, consists of 132 pieces of artwork by 73 students—but the school was only able to conduct a single in-person student exhibition, on opening night, before the March 17 campus shutdowns.

As a result, David J. Knight, director of exhibitions and collections, photographed the installation in its entirety to display on the gallery Facebook page (the collections were also featured on the SocialDistanceGallery Instagram page) and also filmed a video walking tour, offering some spotlight to the majority of those students who missed their chance at that in-person juried exhibition.

The NKU School of the Arts YouTube channel is a wealth of content around the 2020 exhibition, including artist talks (part one, two, and three) and award presentations.


Xavier University
Due to the shutdown, Xavier’s Department of Art was unable to exhibit any in-person student work. So they have collected the class of 2020 senior projects on a website, which was then listed on Rhode Island School of Design’s roundup of thesis show installations—in fact, five XU seniors participated in RISD’s national thesis “shout out.”

According to Chair Suzanne Chouteau, the department plans to exhibit, in-person, all of the thesis shows that were cancelled this spring in the Xavier University Art Galleries this fall.


Miami University
Miami is focusing on preserving the in-person presentation experience for its 2020 graduates, and is planning to exhibit the 16 Class of 2020 Capstone Artists’ works this coming November at the Hiestand Galleries.

In the meantime, Miami’s student work was also featured on Social Distance Gallery

Spring 2019 Capstone Exhibition, installation view. Photo courtesy Hiestand Galleries.

Art Academy of Cincinnati
This local institution benefited from an early-bird thesis show, held at The Carnegie in Covington, Kentucky, at the end of January. AAC also compiled two immersive 3D virtual walk-throughs of two shows (which you can view here and here). See photos of every student’s work at AAC’s Facebook page or on Flickr. And check out AAC’s YouTube channel for thesis talk videos with student artists.


Whether or not in-person classes and events can reconvene this fall, these local students, as well as their professors and mentors, have shown their creative mettle by responding to disruption with imagination and ingenuity.


FotoFocus collaborates—locally, nationally, and internationally—to present and support photography and lens-based projects that are accessible, enriching, and engaging to a diverse public. FotoFocus inspires conversations about the world through the art of photography and film, via its partnerships and signature programming including the FotoFocus Biennial, FotoFocus Symposium, FotoFocus Film Program, and FotoFocus Lecture and Visiting Artist Series.

As the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped our world, FotoFocus had to pivot. First, by pledging its 2020 Biennial budget to financially support more than 100 Participating Venues and Partners in the region’s art community through FotoFocus Emergency Art Grants, and further, by enhancing other pathways to support lens-based art and engage the public in accordance with its mission. The Lens—the FotoFocus editorial arm—is one such avenue.