As Fall Classes Resume, the Arts Flex Their (Virtual) Muscles

by Susan Abbott, Director of Grant Programs, ArtsWestchester

While fall is back-to-school season, class is also back in session for arts organizations throughout Westchester. Since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, arts groups have been pivoting time and again. However, as autumn approaches, arts classes will commence, in one form or another. In some cases, the educational offerings have even expanded. Students, no matter their comfort level, can find ways to brush up on their artistic skills in the coming months, and support their local arts organization at the same time.

In the weeks following the State-mandated lockdown, arts organizations quickly moved their programming to online platforms. Arc Stages for instance, despite having never offered virtual classes, transitioned an extensive roster of classes online. According to Executive Director Adam Cohen, they did so without losing a single session. For the fall, the theater will return to its on-site theater classes with safety protocols in place.

“You can teach any instrument virtually and it works quite well – as long as you have a strong WiFi signal, the right Zoom audio settings and reasonably up-to-date equipment,” says Jean Newton, Executive Director of the Music Conservatory of Westchester, who is offering both virtual and on-site lessons this fall, based on each student and teacher’s comfort level, in addition to private lessons.

Flexibility has been an ongoing necessity for organizations as peoples’ needs continue to shift from one month to the next. Organizations have needed to adjust on-the-fly. In March, Steffi Nossen School of Dance (SNSD), which is housed in the same building as the Music Conservatory in White Plains, offered pre-recorded classes as well as live sessions via Zoom. However, they found that the live Zoom classes were more successful. This was especially true for younger students. According to Judy Ross, Community Relations Director, the live Zoom classes allow for a greater level of interaction and flexibility for those with a shorter attention span. “It is very hard to teach dance without touching, but the teachers are amazingly creative,” she explains. This fall, SNSD will begin with a virtual class schedule, which will include some outdoor in-person community classes in order to establish relationships between faculty and dancers. The school year will be divided into three 10-week sessions. After each session, plans will be re-evaluated with health and safety guidelines in mind.

Pelham Art Center has recently welcomed back students in person. Says Executive Director Charlotte Mouquin: “We want to be able to create opportunities for artists, and [want] people to be able to learn about art. We will be here on the other side of this. We are here and we’re not going anywhere.” The Center opened its doors to students at its physical location for its fall semester, but also offers private bookings that can take place on-location or at students’ homes.

Even though some organizations are moving to in-person or hybrid, many of them have come to understand the benefits of virtual offerings. Many organizations have reported that both their audiences and artist rosters have expanded as a result of their virtual offerings. Lauren Fofana, Managing Director of Youth Theatre Interactions explains: “We had one family where everyone was participating [via Zoom]… the mom, dad, everyone; they all did African dance…There are people in remote areas who don’t have access to acting lessons or ballet classes, so [the reach of virtual classes] is limitless. A friend even sent [our class link] to a friend in South Africa.” For upcoming fall classes, check out ArtsWestchester’s roundup of arts activities and programs for youth and teens in Westchester this season. View now.

A version of this article first appeared in the October issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at

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About Susan Abbott

Susan Abbott is Associate Director of Programs at ArtsWestchester.