Covid’s Impact on the Arts at FSSA

By Yasmin Hakim and Haeyeon Kang

FSSA students in the film department getting ready to shoot a film project.

Upon the return to in-person learning many schools found themselves facing financial strain, and Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) is no exception. 

With six different art studios, and a Musical Theatre program, FSSA requires more funding than the DOE alone can provide. Through PTA fundraising, grants, and ticket sales the money necessary to fund its art programs usually comes on a yearly loop, but COVID-19 has made this far more difficult. 

The lack of shows and ticket sales within the past year-and-a-half have certainly caused a deficit within the arts studios, and until indoor events are allowed again, recovery plans are still up in the air. [The DOE has since approved indoor, socially-distanced performances].

“We generally don’t carry or save money over, it’s like one year to the next, so we sell tickets and then we use that money the following year to pay for everything leading up to selling more tickets, to pay for everything for the next year, so, missing one year does have an impact,” says FSSA principal, Mr. Frankel.

While they’ve tried their best to adapt, teachers in each studio find themselves facing challenges in paying for supplies and learning materials. Among them is the freshman and junior film teacher, and chair of the film department, Mr. Gubin, who explains that due to the cost of film equipment (cameras, laptops, etc.), the cost of maintaining them, and the amount of equipment needed, the studio’s budget has always been tight.

And, upon returning to school it became clear that the need for equipment was significantly greater than before.

“We gave a lot of laptops out last year to students just for the purposes of being able to run the film program remotely and a lot of laptops came back either damaged or broken so we have a significant reduction in the number of laptops that are available to us. We also had like four batteries left for all the cameras so we had to like scramble to purchase batteries,” he says.

Mr. Gubin says he and the sophomore and senior film teacher, Mr. Spagnuoli, had to pay for some of the batteries out of their own pockets. Cleaning supplies for the classroom and HDMI cables were also paid for by them.

“Aside from the PTA funding, we haven’t really had other funds, we haven’t received any new computers. The school did purchase a few Tascam audio recorders for us, but it’s like about three or four of them, which for the number of students using them is a very insignificant number,” he said.

The theatre department also faced immense hardships due to the pandemic. Theatre director Jamie Cacciola-Price, otherwise known as CP, talks about how the money for their annual musical, that year being the musical Hairspray, was spent with the assumption that the ticket sales from the shows at the end of the year would be enough to pay for everything. Because the pandemic stopped the production before they could have a second weekend of shows, all the money was lost. In addition, all the materials borrowed for the show had to be shipped back to San Diego which took an immense amount of money.

“With wrapping up the costs associated with exporting those materials back, plus a weekend of lost revenue, we took a huge financial hit for musical theatre,” CP said.

While other studio teachers faced similar problems, they were able to find opportunities for growth and creative solutions. 

Chair of the Fine Arts department, Dr. Jane Kahn explained how creativity allowed students to work around their lack of supplies while learning remotely.

“One girl created a painting using dye that she created from boiling vegetables like beets and things that gave off a lot of color. Another thing was to use things like tree branches and things that they might find in a park to create sculptures and things or to paint with,” she sadi.

Dr. Kahn also won grants, and bought supplies for students to pick up and take home, in order to work last school year. She explains that the return to in person learning has not presented nearly as many obstacles as remote learning did.

Alternately, chair of the dance department, Ms. Udovicki, also had similar experiences. She explains that despite being happy to be back in the building, the time spent apart has also had a negative impact on the dancers

“There’s a lot of joy. Being back together in a dance class, but there’s also a lack of discipline and time is wasted just going back to those basics of, you know, being prepared, being on time, being focused,” she said.

She does feel, however, adapting to dancing remotely provided a learning experience for everyone.

“There’s something, you know, to be learned. Dancers usually don’t think about dancing on camera, but we all of a sudden had to learn fast to present, to work in a different medium and a different art form altogether,” Ms. Udovicki added.

The drama department, similarly to the art and dance departments, tried something new and performed a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream during the pandemic in central park. The costumes for the show were all rented by Ms. Brady, the freshman and junior drama teacher.

Mr. Frankel says initiatives are being planned by the PTA to recover what was lost during the time out of school, and is hopeful that by the start of the next school year FSSA will be in a much better place.

“I am hopeful that through all of those initiatives, and through the ticket sales for shows that we want to do this year, that we’ll be able to make up some of the money and start the 2022-2023 school year in a much stronger place,” he added.