The importance of creativity during a pandemic

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Marcus Rodriguez holds up his pandemic-related craft made of cardboard and colored markers on Friday, Feb. 26. The project is a creative twist on COVID-19 face masks, inspired by the plague doctors of the 1700’s pandemic. Maureen Linzaga/ The Union

The vibrant art studio once teeming with smiles and the smell of fresh ink has been replaced by a dark room illuminated by a computer screen.

Yet, the same nimble fingers glide across the keyboard, the same wrists craft masterpieces, and the same palms offer assistance through the form of creativity.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, 20-year-old studio art major and teacher’s assistant, Marcus Rodriguez lends a hand to educators in hopes of encouraging creativity and connection in a time of great disconnect.

“What really struck me was when we first went into quarantine, a lot of people started turning to books and TV shows, and music. And that’s all art.” Rodriguez said.

Marcus Rodriguez holds up his pandemic-inspired craft made of cardboard and colored markers on Friday, Feb. 26. The project is a creative twist on COVID-19 face masks, inspired by the plague doctors of the 1700's pandemic.
Marcus Rodriguez holds up his pandemic-related craft made of cardboard and colored markers on Friday, Feb. 26. The project is a creative twist on COVID-19 face masks, inspired by the plague doctors of the 1700's pandemic. Maureen Linzaga/ The Union

Witnessing how art appreciation has amplified since the pandemic started, Rodriguez said he continues his job to help more students find joy in art.

“I realized that art was so important to me because it’s something I could turn to, something therapeutic. I realized it was also therapeutic for other people,” Rodriguez said.

He is currently a teacher’s assistant for Andrea Micallef’s, art professor of two-dimensional design classes where Rodriguez keeps track of the students’ engagement in class through Zoom and their Facebook group.

“I really think it’s helpful for those students who sometimes don’t want to talk to the instructor. They feel intimidated,” Micallef said. “With student to student, there’s a much more relaxed communication.”

Rodriguez helps professor Micallef’s ideas come to fruition and takes time to make step-by-step PowerPoints and videos to guide students through their assignments.

“The transition to online learning made it difficult to expect the full creative experience of an art class. But it’s really possible because of Marcus’ help,” Micallef said.

Upon first coming to El Camino, being a teacher’s assistant was something Rodriguez never knew was an option until he began helping his professors set up before and after class.

Rodriguez began his first job as a teacher’s assistant in the fall of 2019, where he worked for Katherine Sheehan, art professor, in the printmaking studio while simultaneously balancing the work of a full-time student.

“For me, it was a little difficult at first getting used to,” Rodriguez said. “But after a lot of practice and just time spent with that working experience, it really helped me be able to plan out my day better.”

Carrying a year of experience, Rodriguez has been the treasurer of the Future Teachers’ Club since the fall semester of 2020.

Future Teachers’ Club is a club under the TEACH program that focuses on creating a community for aspiring teachers or any student interested in the field of education.

“Marcus came up with ideas of how we can fundraise even though that’s a little harder now that we’re online. He’s been a support not only to myself as the president, but also the cabinet members, far more than just a treasurer role,” Jaibrian Greer, president of the Future Teachers’ Club said.

Greer finds that a creative mindset and artistic talent such as Rodriguez’ is something that is an essential trait for future educators.

“A lot of times you have to be creative to reach your student,” Greer said. “Creativity comes in finding ways to help all of your students through things such as activities.”

Rodriguez plans to resume studying studio art at a university as he is set to graduate from El Camino College this spring, as well as continue gaining experience as a teacher’s assistant.

“It’s been really rewarding not only financially, but it was also emotionally fulfilling,” Rodriguez said. “Not only do I get paid for something that I really enjoy, but it’s also helped me accept a lot more responsibility and develop a lot more self-confidence.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic made the holding of our loved one’s hands risky, Rodriguez believes we are still able to reach out to others through art.

“Aesthetic beauty can bring comfort to the human experience, and can help us connect and reach out to each other even if you feel alone,” Rodriguez said. “And it’s something that anyone can do.”