Making it online in Anderson Ranch’s Innovation Studios |

Making it online in Anderson Ranch’s Innovation Studios


Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s Innovation Studios are open for registration online at Workshops run through the end of August.

The buzz of artists at work on Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s idyllic Snowmass Village campus was silenced by the novel coronavirus pandemic. But since the nonprofit announced in late April that it was moving its signature summer workshops online, a geographically diverse community of makers has flocked to the virtual Ranch.

More than 50 workshops have launched since early May, most selling out, and through reduced tuition options for artists impacted by the COVID-19 economic crisis, it’s reaching new communities of artists.

Over the last month, the popular virtual sessions — dubbed Innovation Studios — have convinced Ranch administrators to continue hosting online classes in perpetuity, even after the campus opens, in addition to its on-site program.

“They are here to stay,” said Andrea Wallace, the Ranch’s director of photography and new media.

The decision to cancel 150-plus summer workshops was out of the Ranch’s hands, based on public health advisories. The chance to serve artists virtually, Wallace said, began with the students who were already signed up for in-person summer sessions.

“We wanted to still serve students who had already signed up for in-person workshops,” she explained, “and we had a choice: do we just cancel the summer or try to do something virtual?”

The idea of virtual workshops is not entirely new to Anderson Ranch. Its Advanced Mentored Studies program runs year-round with mostly online meetings. Wallace and Ranch administrators had long contemplated an online learning component as an extension of the on-campus experience, she said.

COVID-19 forced them to figure it out, with Zoom-based workshops, one-on-one sessions and supply lists available for download.

New media, digital photography, video and coding classes suited the virtual space, Ranch administrators found, as did classes in watercolor painting, for which students can set up easels at home. Digital fabrication classes were doable, too, allowing students to craft works digitally, print them remotely on Ranch equipment, and then have the pieces mailed to them.

But fields of study like woodworking and the vaunted Ranch ceramics programs wouldn’t go online.

New partnerships were also born out of the initiative. For its coding workshops, the Ranch teamed with the nonprofit Processing Foundation, which helped the Ranch reach new populations.

The programs began in May with Wallace herself teaching “Home: Visual Diaries,” a workshop for photographers. Launching while most of the U.S. was under stay-home orders, it challenged students to chronicle day-to-day life at home and close to it. The workshop proved popular enough that it filled soon after it was announced and a second section was added.

“We wanted to see if people were interested in thinking about this domestic space, with everybody in stay-home orders moving through the COVID crisis,” Wallace said.

Among the assignments for the workshop was to make and edit a photo for a daily diary, create a self-portrait and to conduct a “visual conversation” with a partner from the class, going back and forth responding only in images. Jillian MacMaster, an exhibiting artist based in Frederick, Maryland, paired with a classmate in California and said the experience was eye-opening both creatively and in terms of the possibilities for remote learning.

“It was interesting to connect with someone I would not have had the chance to before,” she said.

MacMaster found Anderson Ranch through Instagram. Seeing that the photographer Jess T. Dugan was booked to teach on campus this summer, MacMaster applied for and won a scholarship to attend. She was disappointed to miss the chance to come to Colorado for the first time, but pleased workshops would continue online.

“I really waned to go to the Ranch and a new environment and see how that changed my perspective,” MacMaster said. “I do miss the classroom environment where you are with people and you can see the work printed out. But I’m so happy it became this virtual workshop rather than just canceling it.”

She signed up for a second workshop immediately after the visual diary session ended.

Skylar Taylor, who graduated from Louisiana Tech University this spring, took the visual diary workshop from home in Ruston, Louisiana. Two of her professors had taken workshops at the Ranch and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. Her diary photos focused on portraiture within the verdant natural scenes of northern Louisiana. She, too, signed up for a second workshop when Wallace’s ended.

“It’s been a saving grace in this quarantine time,” she said of the experience. “Quarantine gave me a lot of time to explore,. Every day I would go through trails or to the park in Ruston. I feel like I have it mapped out in my head now – even the smallest little places. I was able to spend time with them so I would know how to photograph them.”

Along with the hands-on workshops, the online lineup includes some more seminar-based experiences. Those include the four-day “Portraiture and Figuration” seminar taught by three art world leaders: artist Catherine Opie, MacArthur recipient Nicole Eisenmann and Ranch curator-in-residence Helen Molesworth.

Innovation Studios are currently scheduled to run through the end of August, with more workshops being added to the catalog regularly. Each has two tiers of tution: a full-price option for those who can afford it, and a COVID-19 Artist Relief Offer that discounts the price often by more than half.

Some workshops are available for as little as $150, drawing new students to the Ranch.

“With the more affordable COVID-19 Artist Relief, people from all over the world can now access those virtual classes,” Wallace said. “We’ve broadened the demographics and more people that are non-local than we normally would.”

Many social traditions of the Ranch, of course, can’t translate online. The nonprofit opted not to try to replicate campus happenings like group yoga sessions, Friday afternoon cocktail hours and open studio hang-outs.

“We thought about that, but let’s be clear: it’s not the same as the in-person experience,” Wallace said. “They are apples and oranges. You can get so close but it’s important to acknowledge they are very different experiences.”

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