Creativity and the coronavirus: Interns make the most of challenging situation

Chelsea Kun
July 09, 2020

Like most Penn State students, when College of Arts and Architecture freshman Emma Kappel went home for spring break, she never expected to stay in Oregon for the rest of the semester. She especially didn’t expect to be driving around to different homes in the area to take pictures of families and couples on their porches.

Kappel decided to make the best of a difficult situation by creating “Porchtraits, a project that allowed her to practice her photography while still maintaining the social distance required by COVID-19 restrictions.

“I needed to get out of my house and really express myself and I wasn’t going to let the coronavirus stop me,” Kappel said. “I love working with people, and really being able to challenge myself to capture some great pictures of people.”

Kappel’s story is just one example of how students in the College of Arts and Architecture internship program, supervised by Stephanie Swindle Thomas, director of social media and visual assets, adjusted their work in a challenging “new normal.” 

Darya Alvarez, a Bellisario College of Communications student from New Jersey, also practices portraiture and agreed the social distancing guidelines made things particularly difficult.

To make matters worse, several of Alvarez’s family members contracted the virus. She avoided infection, but was unable to leave her house and had to think of ways to practice photography without seeing anybody but her immediate family.

At first, she said she wanted to take portraits of her family members, but then decided to practice self-portraiture, which was new to her.

While it was a fun experience, she said it wasn’t always easy.

“It’s really personal, and I think that was difficult for me,” Alvarez said, noting “looking through a ton of pictures of yourself and picking the best ones” is a challenge.

Sebastian Vargas, an integrative arts student from New Jersey, also enjoys photography and videography, but has been spending his time growing a different passion—music production.

When he received his first iPod in high school, he downloaded the music app Pandora, where he heard electronic music for the first time and was immediately intrigued.

“My dad also makes music himself, so he hooked me up with all the equipment I needed throughout the years,” Vargas said. “From there, I started learning on my own how to do everything and started building.”

In high school he joined a band, and now he has his own Soundcloud and Spotify accounts where he publishes his own music.

During his time away from campus, he focused on creating more music.

“I’m trying to figure out the best way to make it benefit me since everybody’s at home,” he said. “How can I create a medium that will get distributed and that people might be interested in looking at in their free time?”

Swindle Thomas said that maintaining a productive internship program was difficult as restrictions resulting from COVID-19 became tighter, but as the intern projects were submitted the quality didn’t waiver.

“As artists, we are expected to think outside of the box,” Swindle Thomas said. “By making work that was very personal and introspective on their own, the interns learned something about themselves through their art. I’m proud of them for making the most of a difficult situation.”  

Last Updated July 09, 2020