Friday, February 12, 2021

How One Art School Adjusted to the Pandemic

Shutdowns and social distancing have presented real challenges to brick-and-mortar art schools. Anthony Walsh,  founder of the Montreal-based concept art academy called Syn Studio, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how they have adapted.

What was the original vision for your school at Syn Studio?

Syn Studio started as a traditional art school offering life drawing and then oil painting classes. Back then we were just lucky that some of our first teachers were also incredible artists such as Charles Vinh and Geof Isherwood who were working on some of the most exciting illustration and concept art projects in Canada at the time. Teachers at other schools in Montreal began referring their students to us to get additional practical hands-on instruction in the fundamentals and we started to grow.

I began speaking with the students and discovered that many of them wanted to become professional concept artists and illustrators but that they couldn’t find any affordable and high quality training options in Canada despite the high concentration of entertainment industry companies here. So I set out a vision for Syn Studio to provide the highest value for money training available not just in Canada but anywhere on the planet. I wanted Syn Studio to become the go-to Concept Art School for students who don’t have an unlimited budget but want high quality education. I visited schools and consulted with experts from all around the world, most notably Scott Robertson who founded the Entertainment Design program at Art Center. And in 2020, Syn Studio was ranked The #1 Concept Art and Illustration school worldwide by The Rookies.

What classroom space did you occupy at the beginning and how many students did you have back then?

At the beginning, we had one classroom and four students. The whole school was located inside an old loft with hardwood floors and high ceilings where I also lived. A few years later, we were running classes every day and I moved out. Then we needed another classroom and for a short period of time, we had two nearby locations. During that time we found a great space that we could grow into inside of a historic downtown building on Montreal’s main street. With the launch of our Concept Art Diploma Program in 2016 we are now up to four physical classrooms.

What was your initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic?

In early 2020, before the pandemic was declared, we recognized that we had better get ready for a move to online learning just in case the virus spreads. We started exploring the various software options for this. When the pandemic was declared and schools were closed, it was still a huge challenge to move everything online within a week or two during a school term but it didn’t catch us completely by surprise. Our staff went all out and did an incredible job helping the teachers adapt and finish their classes. We had to delay a few classes but ended the term successfully online and were ready to start the next term fully online.

What do your teachers and students miss most about being together in a classroom or studio?

Bonding with fellow students and communicating face to face is best done in person and we know many of our students and teachers want things to return to normal. We encourage students to activate their webcams and participate actively in class and we hold many online social and artistic activities for our full time students to help them bond outside the physical school. However, until we develop the holodeck from Star Trek or similar technology, the virtual classroom, studio or lounge will never capture all the social and emotional benefits of in person presence. Covid isolation is really bad for some people and while we do what we can to help them cope, we hope things return to normal soon.

How has the pandemic affected your school's income?

Initially it dropped as people were just more focussed on pandemic news than registering for art classes. But now we’re doing better than ever and still growing at a good pace mainly due to the competitiveness of our affordable online art classes.

How do you see the pandemic changing your school, for better or worse?

Definitely for the better. Due to the pandemic, we’ve launched an Online Art School which is very successful and still growing. We have access to talent from all over the world now! We’ve learned to use new technology and still be highly productive while our staff is working remotely. Any school or team that successfully makes it through an existential crisis with everyone intact becomes a stronger school and team that is more prepared for the next challenge. Our vision of providing the highest value concept art and illustration education on the planet hasn’t changed. We’re more excited and more committed than ever and ready for whatever the future brings!
For more information, please visit the website of Syn Studio Concept Art School.
Previous posts on this blog about Syn Studio: