VPAC seniors grew creatively in a year that posed unique challenges to the arts

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Ariston Zhou '21

Senior VPAC member Ariston Zhou’s resin sculpture entitled “Construction and Demolition”.

Peyton Zarate, Arts and Culture Editor

The Visual and Performing Arts Concentration (VPAC) is a unique academic track offered at Potomac that allows a select group of students to do a focused study on theater, music, or a studio art. From sophomore to senior year, VPAC students devote class and after-school time to their chosen artistic discipline. Whether in the studio, practice room, or on the stage, each discipline relies heavily on physical, visual, and engaging efforts. Though it hasn’t been easy to continue these studies through a pandemic and over Zoom, senior members of the arts concentration shared their favorite parts of an (admittedly unconventional) VPAC experience —starting with what caused them to apply in the first place.

For VPAC visual arts students, joined the concentration in order to develop their craft as artists outside of traditional art classes. Abby Malmud, a senior in the studio art concentration, said “I wanted a chance to continue building on my drawing and painting skills while also developing my own style.”

Like Abby, many of the seniors in the visual art concentration were drawn to VPAC for the artistic freedom not found in regular art classes. Senior Anna Mathews has devoted the past few weeks of work to prints, something she felt she hadn’t fully explored when she was younger in Potomac’s ordinary art curriculum.

Creative freedom is a point of emphasis for music concentration, too. VPAC music allows students like senior Jian Mostaghim to devote more time to their instrument and encourages them to play a more active role in selecting pieces. 

“I am always delighted by the variety of emotional atmospheres which the cello is able to create. VPAC music is a helpful route to take if you are interested in enriching your knowledge of music, and, of course, your musical skills,” he said. 

For senior theater students, VPAC has provided an environment to pick up new dramatic techniques and explore characters.

“I chose theatre because I knew that despite not receiving formal vocal lessons, I could still strive to develop my voice on my own and continue performing in Coffeehouse, Winterlights, etc.,” said senior VPAC theater student Alejandra Monzon.

VPAC allows young Potomac artists to develop their gifts under close mentoring of VPAC faculty, but according to seniors, the sense of community amongst fellow artists was what made the experience so enriching. 

Senior VPAC art member Ariston Zhou, said “Originally, I wanted to be in VPAC to have more time to spend on my sculptures and architecture models. Additionally, I also was hoping for a community of like-minded individuals, which I could join and become a part of.” 

“Some of my best ideas and works were inspired by others, and I would not have been able to come up with everything on my own,” he continued.

VPAC artists told us that they gain inspiration, a fresh perspective, and/or support from working alongside fellow artists. The group bonding each VPAC discipline provides is vital to the artists’ growth and artistic expression. Having a comfortable space that allows program students to make mistakes while exploring how to express themselves is a key aspect of the VPAC experience.

Unique to the other VPAC disciplines, acting requires participants to build off of their scene partners, analyzing body movement and facial expressions to craft a scene. Thus, the lack of personal interaction amidst hybrid learning proved challenging. 

“I found the dynamics of working through a screen (instead of on stage with someone) to be difficult. I had to change the way I approached acting,” Grace said. 

COVID-19 left VPAC art members having to work on projects away from their traditional setting. 

“The main challenge throughout the pandemic was the lack of studio access. Sculptures require a wide range of tools and materials, and not having those items forced me to become creative,” Ariston said, when speaking of his resin structures (pictured at right). 

Despite these challenges, VPAC seniors have persisted in working on their final projects. VPAC theater seniors are putting together a showcase centered around the theme of growing up. The virtual show will be directed, designed, and preformed by all of the VPAC theater seniors. 

Alejandra said, “As of right now, we are reading plays and searching for more content to work with before we begin casting. As for whether this will be in person or in video format is yet to be decided, however, because of the pandemic,” said. 

For the VPAC studio art students, each project will look very different, depending on the artist’s individual interest. Ranging from paintings, to photography, to sculpture, the VPAC art gallery will present a wide array of works. 

Senior VPAC studio art member Anna Mathews said “This year I’ve been working on printmaking. Most of the work has been monoprints, which has been a fun new challenge for me. I’m going to hopefully have a collection of landscape prints by the end of the year.”

Similarly, VPAC music students will pick a final culminating piece to learn and perfect that showcases their musical abilities. Jian, for example, is beginning to work on the Kodaly Cello Solo Sonata, Opus 8, a sonata by the 20th century Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

This year, the seniors’ final projects this year will not only serve as a reflection of their creativity and work over the past three years but, also, as a testament to their creativity and perseverance in the face of unprecedented circumstances. Even amidst a global pandemic, VPAC still allows senior members to be creative and grow in their artistry.