The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts held a community update meeting as part of its Salon Series of conversations on January 27 for residents to learn about the Eliot School’s plans for moving forward.
The conversation was led by the Eliot School’s Executive Director Abigail Norman and Program Director Alison Croney Moses.
Norman said that one of the purposes of the meeting was to discuss “how we can use this moment of disruption” to “think about rebuilding in ways that are stronger, richer, more varied, and better.”
She talked about some of the improvements that will be happening in the schoolhouse, though it remains closed at this time. Norman said that a proper restroom is being created in the basement, and improvements will also be made in the wood shop, as well as all of the classrooms.
“We are absolutely surviving this period,” Norman said, “largely because of you in the room and state and federal legislators.”
Norman said that the schoolhouse has been closed since March, and the school has lost more than one-third of its revenue. The rest of the school’s programming “moved instantly online in March,” she said, which was a “huge challenge, but also a great source of satisfaction.”
Additionally, 1,300 art supply kits were created and delivered to BPS students for their remote art classes, and Norman said that the school’s TeenBridge program went well this past year, culminating in a documentary called “InterGeneration.”
Croney Moses said that “we’re doing a pretty good job and we’re going to keep forging forward.” She said that while she misses meeting in person with children, she also misses the adult classes and being able to socialize with other adults.
“I wish I could say April 1 to get back in the schoolhouse,” Norman said. “We don’t know. There’s still so much that’s uncertain. We’re riding this out just like everybody else.”
Norman said that there will be a summer program for children this year, as the Eliot School has joined a group of camp leaders in the Boston area that have helped the school understand protocols for things like social distancing and contact tracing.
She said that with the help of JP architect Ed Forte, “we’ll be constructing some outdoor canopies” to use as outdoor classrooms for pods of kids. The summer program will run from the end of June through some time in August, and details can be found on the Eliot School’s website.
“Out main concern about reopening is we need to protect the health of our students, our teachers, and our staff,” Norman said. “It’s a dangerous world out there right now.”
Norman also explained that the school recently completed walk-throughs with a contractor for the installation of an air purification system, and “Ed Forte has designed a social distancing map of every classroom. When the time comes for us to reopen, we’ll probably open slowly, gradually, piece by piece,” she said, and will also implement a contact tracing protocol.
She added that they are also exploring holding online classes for their tuition based program.
When asked about the future, Croney Moses said that “my hope for this year is the beginning of us working towards eliminating systems of oppression in our society and uplifting voices that have been silenced for too long,” adding that she hopes to use creativity and art “to make that happen.”
Questions from friends, neighbors, and students of the Eliot School were also addressed by Norman and Croney Moses.
One person asked what the Zoom classes currently look like for the BPS students who are participating virtually.
Zahirah Nur Truth, one of the teachers in the School and Community Partnerships program, explained that she and her students listen to music at the beginning of the lesson, and move into drawing and storytelling.
“It’s also about relationships,” she said, adding that the group plays games together as well.
“The teachers have two cameras,” Croney Moses said, “one on them, and one on their art. She said that the teachers provide a demonstration and then provide feedback on the students’ art.
“The teen classes are a little more in-depth than that,” she said. “Some kids have had exposure to arts and some have not.”
Another person asked where Norman and Croney Moses see the Eliot School in five to 10 years.
“Online classes may provide an opportunity for people who cannot physically come to the schoolhouse,” Norman said, such as older people or those with mobility issues. She said this also provides the “potential for engaging teachers who live in other countries and other parts of the country who may be able to interact with students,” which is something that could also be integrated with in-person classes to enrich the experience further.
She also said she would like to see more racial diversity at the school.
Someone also asked about the expansion of Eliot School, which was proposed to the community in 2019. The project has been on hold since the pandemic hit, but a final presentation to the school’s board was given right before the pandemic, she said.
“We are going to have to take a minimum of two years to rebuild financially coming out of COVID,’ Norman said. “It’s just taken a huge hit on the Eliot School” and other similar organizations, she added.
“We’re going to need a period of time to regroup financially,” and she said that “at some point” the conversation about the expansion will be picked up again. But until then, she said “all of that research will still be there waiting for our board.”
To learn more about the Eliot School and its programming, visit eliotschool.org.