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Arts & Life

A Lawrence Art Teacher's Quarantine Videos Have Created A Surreal YouTube Universe

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Hannah Hurst
In her new web series, Lawrence art teacher Hannah Hurst dresses up like a number of famous artists, as evidenced by this cast of characters reminiscent of the opening scene of The Brady Bunch.

In her theatrical videos, Deerfield Elementary School teacher Hannah Hurst invokes Frida Kahlo, Beyoncé, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and others in a quest to keep stuck-at-home students engaged.

It’s been hard for Lawrence art teacher Hannah Hurst to work from home.

“There’s something so performative about teaching that I really miss. I love the creative outlet of getting kids excited about art,” she says.

With her beloved Deerfield Elementary School temporarily shut down because of COVID-19, Hurst has been refocusing her energy into a new web series she's calling "The Art Teacher In Quarantine."

While educational videos have certainly grown ubiquitous in this moment, Hurst's stand in a category of their own. In addition to being chock-full of art lessons, they're also zany and unpredictable. They regularly juxtapose Hurst with videos and images from present day pop culture and art history.

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Courtesy of Hannah Hurst
Lawrence art teacher Hannah Hurst pulls off her Frida Kahlo disguise as part of her new web series.

The result is a surreal universe that feels somewhat like being on the inside of a really creative person's brain.

One minute you'll be watching as Hurst embodies the spirit of Georgia O'Keeffe. The next, she's squeezing past Beyoncé to get a better view of the "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre Museum, or casually eating a sandwich next to Andy Warhol. The fourth wall is really only broken when she does something like remind students never to touch artwork in a real museum.

“I was just trying to pivot and figure out how to be present for my kids. This seemed like the best way to reach out and still teach,” she says.

Each episode features a unique plot line with a suggested activity at the end. Hurst doesn't shy away from talking about COVID-19, either. It's very much a part of the experience.

In the first episode, she wakes up from a colorful dream walking around the Louvre and is immediately forced back to reality: A world where all of the museums are closed.

The Hurst in the video isn't concerned. She tells her students they simply have to be a little more creative when the museums are closed. Dressed as the late painter Joseph Ducreux, she spends the rest of the episode explaining to her students how to recreate masterpieces at home, challenging them to try it themselves. (Which they do.)

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Courtesy of Hannah Hurst
Many Deerfield Elementary School students responded to Hurst's challenge to recreate a masterpiece. This is Rosella Bentancourt's interpretation of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer.

In a different episode, Hurst redirects the conversation about quarantine haircuts by time traveling into an exhibit by Lawrence artist Hong Chun Zhang, who is known for taking inspiration from long human hair.

It's no surprise that Hurst's videos have received a lot of positive attention from students, parents and colleagues. Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis and Deerfield Elementary School Principal Joni Appleman both make frequent cameos.

A reoccurring theme in the series is the importance of seeing art in everyday life. In one episode, Hurst challenges students to find the shapes of alphabet letters in the structure of their homes. It's important to Hurst that students know how to do this, even if they only have a paper and pencil at home.

“It’s more about how you see the world,” she says.

Ultimately, Hurst wants what all teachers do right now: For her students to stay active and engaged until things get back to a semblance of normal. She hopes her videos can provide a bit of comfort and inspiration until that time comes.

“I want them to take away that things are going to get better. And I hope that they watch these and have a good laugh,” she says.

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Hannah Hurst
In a screenshot from her video series, art teacher Hannah Hurst teaches students how to create a masterpiece dressed like 18th century painter Joseph Ducreux.

Hannah Hurst spoke with KCUR at the end of a recent episode of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their conversation here.

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