Students standing on the Patio outside of Calder Arts Center


How a little-used outdoor space at Calder Art Center became a sanctuary, a muse and a welcome place to gather for pandemic-weary students and their instructor

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Along the back of the Calder Art Center, tucked up against the woods, is a patio space that hadn't seen much use.

It had become a bit of a repository of mismatched furniture, said Jill Eggers, associate professor of painting. She said she was just as likely to see wildlife near the space as a student settling in for lunch.

Masked professor gestures with artwork in the background

Jill Eggers, associate professor of painting, found an unexpected setting to help her students connect. / Above: The outdoor setting allows students to discuss their work.

But in the throes of the pandemic, when the building was starkly empty and Eggers and her students craved a way to gather to critique work and forge the type of connection that was proving tough to find, this outdoor setting became an unexpected haven. She said she relished the chance for this peaceful time with students amid the turbulence going on all around.

They would sit, spread out, and form their own community as they discussed their creations, their artwork taped onto or propped against the building. Sometimes, they hauled easels out and painted on the patio, or in the nearby woods. 

The woods and the Ravines offered a lovely respite from the stressors of the pandemic, Eggers said. Students were going through a lot, and sometimes a walk in the woods was just the mind-clearing interlude they needed. Other times, taking in nature and looking at how the light played off the trees provided artistic inspiration and insight.

Eggers said the students were extraordinary and it was gratifying to watch them thrive as they connected under new circumstances; those circumstances, where every day a decision had to be reconsidered, also inspired her as a teacher.

"There were so many things about having the normalcy going away that made room for innovation," Eggers said.

Innovation that turns an empty space into a vibrant place filled with camaraderie, creativity and promise. The Patio will continue as a coveted outdoor classroom.

Students critique art work outside Calder

The space provided an opportunity for some much-needed connection during classes. (courtesy of Jill Eggers)