Wennie Huang is a visual artist and has been teaching watercolor painting, pastel and drawing at the 92Y Gilda and Henry Block School of the Arts since 2005. She developed the sewing and design courses for youth, and art exploration classes for teens. A devoted teacher, Wennie has built up a strong following among her students, many of whom have been taking classes with her for several years.
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“I think of my students each as very particular individuals,” says Wennie Huang. “Some of them are like family. They’ve had life experiences that are very rich and very diverse. I honor that, and I know that they’re taking an art class because there’s a need. It may be an inner passion for art and understanding, or passion for materials in color. My role as a teacher is to help them unlock and release whatever is holding them back, or to tap into their reserve so that they can move forward with their goals. In class, I think they develop friendships and connections with one another, and I also think my role is to foster that.”
“I’m just devoted to my students. Some of them are like family.”
On March 16, 92Y closed its doors and New York City went into shutdown. Virtually overnight, the Art Center shifted moved its classes online.
“I was not prepared for online teaching at all,” Wennie remembers. “We really hadn’t had time to think about it too much. But the Art Center was the first of all the places where I teach to immediately put together a series of short, user-friendly tutorials for faculty, where we could meet on Zoom and learn the basics of online teaching. That got me started.”
Determined to figure out how to use online video conferencing to replicate the studio experience for her students, Wennie led the way in making her classes work remotely.
“I stayed up all night to make a space at home and to figure out the equipment. My goal was: I’m going to stabilize my students’ lives. They’re going to be able to know that they can come on Fridays or Tuesdays, or whenever they have class for me, and I will be here for them. I wanted them to know that they could depend on that. I think that the Y is that for them, it is an anchor for them in their lives.
“The 92nd Street Y is an anchor in my students’ lives.”
“The next day I started online teaching. My students came on … it was such a surprise. I mean, we were all in a panic about our lives and what we were going to be doing and how things were going to go. It was so wonderful to see each other on the laptop. I taught three classes in a row, two-and-a-half hour classes.”
Giving demonstrations of various techniques is an important part of Wennie’s teaching method. Using Zoom, her computer and her smartphone, she worked out how to give live demos in classes so that her students could simultaneously see her subject as well as her demonstration.
“The students loved it,” she says. “They couldn’t believe it. The students told me they could see my demos on Zoom better than they could see them in the classroom. So I put together a document to share with my colleagues so they could see how it was done. The 92nd Street Y has been an anchor for me in my life. And the other teachers, the other faculty, who I consider my friends, all of them have been that for me. We are a community, we help each other out.”
This fall, Wennie continues teaching remotely, but she’s looking forward to the time when she can get back into the studio with her students in person.
“When COVID is over, I want them to come back. If they come back, I will have more of an opportunity to help discover who they are and help them unlock and grow a little more. They will come back if they feel safe and supported. It’s only through their patience and resilience that they’ve continued to stay with me, that I’ve actually learned how to teach from them.
“What more can we do with this technology?”
“For me, the 92nd Street Y is the center of the community. It shares values and education and diversity in learning new things, in sharing experiences, in nurturing families – all the things that are most important to me,” Wennie says. “I have loved the encouragement I have received from the Art Center to develop new programming during the pandemic. The Art Center team has found a really positive way to energize and inspire the faculty and students and the community into taking advantage of this moment and embracing it. Moving forward, it’s not just about maintaining our programs, but discovering what more can we do with this technology? What other ideas do we have? I have found this attitude to be extremely uplifting.”
Wennie’s classes continue online in the new winter/spring semester. You can learn more about them in our class listing. Open enrollment begins December 2.