DAAP prof puts new designs on community outreach

UC’s urban outreach continues to ‘Manifest’ hope and positive energy, even if from a distance

While the world scrambles to settle into a new normal amid the global pandemic, some things don’t change, like the need for self-expression and to stay connected.

As University of Cincinnati students shift into learning remotely from their safe spaces, faculty are broadcasting lessons virtually from empty labs, classrooms or home offices.

To navigate these new virtual waters, many are seeking ways to deal with their frustrations and uncertainties by continuing to creatively express themselves.

“What better way to do that than through the arts and other creative outlets, especially now,” says Brigid O’Kane, associate professor of industrial design at UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). “People are experiencing a lot of emotion right now and it’s okay. Being aware of one’s emotions is important; it fosters thoughtful responses instead of careless reactions.”

Awareness is key and creative outlets are what she hopes will help channel those emotions constructively. 

“The last two days of classes at DAAP, after the University announced the suspension of face-to-face teaching were heart-wrenching,” she says. “There were air hugs from a safe distance and tears. It was so sad. One of my students had to fly back to India and she’ll finish out the semester online like everybody else.”

Three young students sit at drawing desks while sketching at the Manifest Drawing Center.

Students of all ages normally enjoy classes in-person at Cincinnati's Manifest Drawing Center, where DAAP professors such as Brigid O'Kane volunteer. These days, they are finding ways to still teach art virtually. Photo/Submitted

In some ways the online format offers a better experience for students, but O’Kane now knows, as many of her colleagues would agree, it takes a lot more work. Once you get past the learning curve and students are off and running, the online process of teaching will streamline itself.

“Nothing compares to the face-to-face or one-on-one teaching format,” she notes. “But, one of the true gifts of participating in any creative field of study is the ability to look for solutions and see the possibilities. Online classes are wonderful ways to connect and overcome obstacles instead of being blocked by them.”

Drawing a new reality

While launching her DAAP design courses into cyberspace in the midst of the campuswide shutdown, O’Kane faces similar challenges as she helps transition off-campus classes to online learning at the Cincinnati-based nonprofit arts organization Manifest Drawing Center in Walnut Hills. 

“A number of courses at Manifest are using Zoom, which is a cross-platform application that’s great for allowing students and instructors to see and interact with each other in real time,” she says.

UC's Brigid O'Kane stands next to the entry wall at Manifest Drawing Center.

As co-founder of the Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, UC's Brigid O'Kane devotes most of her off-campus time teaching classes at the drawing center on McMillan Avenue. Photo/Submitted

UC supports O’Kane’s connection with Manifest not only because it provides a valuable external laboratory opportunity giving fresh perspectives on her DAAP research in drawing and design, but also because Manifest’s nonprofit mission is a service to the community, she says, which aligns with UC's Next Lives Here strategic direction as it elevates urban outreach as well as academic excellence. 

Aptly titled “Drawing as Mindfulness," O’Kane regards this particular drawing class as a type of meditation. After teaching the class for over two years in the studio, her first online version of the class debuted in March. 

“Everyone needs to exercise their neglected right brain, and drawing is an efficient and ready channel for creative focused attention. It can be very healthy for everyone.”

“We need mindfulness, creativity and open-mindedness now more than ever. The transition to offering some of its drawing classes online has opened up opportunities at Manifest Drawing Center to a broader community. Anywhere on the planet even,” she adds.

Smooth transition

Black and white aerial view of UC's Brigid O'Kane sitting at her computer.

O'Kane looks forward to teaching online drawing classes, as she sees the potential for reaching a wider student population. Photo/Submitted

O’Kane projects an image of what she is drawing through a webcam positioned above her drawing table. "I can share my screen with them, draw out suggestions and give them a critique of their drawing," she says. "I look at their visual, analyze it and illustrate how to correct it in real time right on the screen, analogous to how I work with my design students at DAAP.” 

While most businesses may temporarily or even permanently close down, O'Kane says now is not the time to take away a critical urban commodity providing creative art as one of the last connections to normalcy for many members of our community.

“While allowing people physically into the drawing center is not possible presently, our staff and teaching artists are keeping members of the community connected in real time through online programs, much like we’re doing for UC students," she adds.

“The first person to ask if she could begin taking her drawing classes online was an 80-year-old student of mine. It’s incredible how we can embrace change in order to continue to stay involved in the activities we love."

UC professor Brigid O'Kane teaches at a table to four students in design class at DAAP.

O'Kane looks forward to working with her DAAP design students in person again soon. Photo/Submitted

“Engaging in the arts at any age is like training our mind to see things from a different point of view. The drawing process is a catalyst for this unimpeded way of thinking,” O’Kane continues. “Today, we are experiencing an incredible amount of change. I’m hopeful that this is a catalyst for rethinking the way we normally do business so we can live and work in ways that are healthier, not only for ourselves but for the entire planet.

“We are still trying to understand our place in the world. This global pandemic is tragic. However, it is also challenging us to find balance as we develop creative solutions and evolve. This gives me hope.”


Featured image at top: UC design professor Brigid O'Kane teaches her Drawing as Mindfulness class on the Zoom cross-platform web program from her laptop at home. Photo/provided

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Impact Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are changing lives and urban outcomes through community arts outreach and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

Take a UC virtual visit and begin picturing yourself at an institution that inspires incredible stories.

Spectators walk around inside the Manifest Gallery viewing the latest exhibition of art on the walls.

As part of the Manifest Research Gallery and Drawing Center, the exhibit gallery on Woodburn features work by artists from around the globe including January's 'Time Bombs: Art About Anxiety & Impending Disaster.' If the social isolation mandate is lifted by June, O’Kane says the new Manifest Drawing Center’s grand opening celebration in its new building on McMillan Avenue will take place on June 5. Photo/Submitted

Impact Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

Read more #UCtheGood stories, or take a UC virtual visit and begin picturing yourself at an institution that inspires incredible stories.

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