The mid-March pivot away from in-person instruction at Selkirk College due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted programs in a variety of ways. For students in Kootenay Studio Arts diploma programs, it meant stepping away from projects at a key juncture of the semester.
Shayna Stonehouse arrived to the studios at Nelson’s Victoria Street Campus to take the Blacksmithing Program and Bronze Casting Program from her home in Quesnel. Immersed in the creative atmosphere of post-secondary learning, it all came to a screeching halt when classes were adjourned to protect the health and safety of the community.
Kootenay Studio Arts at Selkirk College student Shayna Stonehouse in the Blacksmithing Studio at the Victoria Street Campus in Nelson. After in-person classes were adjourned in mid-March, students in some programs have returned to complete their diplomas.
“It was heartbreaking because many people here walked away from some really good situations to expand upon our education,” says the 29-year-old. “Projects were stopped midway through and that was difficult.”
A Red Seal welder and apprentice millwright, Stonehouse took a pause from a successful career in the trades to explore a burning desire to formally expand her skills. She discovered Kootenay Studio Arts diploma programs and uprooted her life.
“The artistic side has always been an interest and I wanted to learn more about it,” she says. “The teachers at Selkirk College are incredible, so it was a great opportunity to come here.”
Studying and training under Blacksmithing Program instructor Kevin Kratz and Bronze Casting Program instructor Denis Kleine, Stonehouse found a learning vibe that enabled her to thrive.
“I love it here,” she says. “It’s a rarity that an artist can come to a shop with other artists to share this kind of energy. When you are working on your own, there is not the same interaction and ability to ask questions. It’s a great mastermind hub.”
Taking on the Challenge During COVID-19
The week that in-person classes were adjourned, Stonehouse and her classmates were preparing for a bronze pour. One of the most exciting steps in the creative process, students and instructors had to scratch the plan when required to temporarily shutter the studio.
Instead of returning home to Quesnel, Stonehouse decided to wait out the pandemic pause in the West Kootenay. She found employment with a Balfour-based stone polisher where she had an opportunity to do some finishing work on a seven-foot sculpture by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona that will be featured in the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.
Stonehouse works on one of her pieces in the grinding room. When not working in isolated areas, students and staff are required to wear masks and adhere to the COVID-19 protocols that are standard across Selkirk College campuses.
As Selkirk College transitions back into a variety of delivery models under strict adherence to Provincial Government protocols, the Bronze Casting Program at Kootenay Studio Arts is one of the areas where in-person training has been deemed safe to resume. In mid-June, students in the program were given the chance to complete their projects and training in the modified studio.
“It’s amazing that they gave us the opportunity to come back to finish what we started and earn our diploma,” says Stonehouse. “The protocols that are in place keep us safe, you just need to take some extra time and be mindful of the situation.”
Find out more about Selkirk College’s COVID-19 health and safety planning here.