By Mari Sahakyan
In these tough times of self-isolation and social distancing, Armenia’s TUMO Center for Creative Technologies continues to inspire its students and shows how creativity can be unleashed even during a complete lockdown. From designing COVID-19 testing strategies to shooting films from isolation, TUMO has been keeping its students busy.
“Our online workshops are designed to be accessible for all of our students. That is, they require the minimum amount of equipment,” said Marie Lou Papazian, the director of TUMO. Just with a laptop or a mobile phone, and an internet connection, TUMO students can join the most sophisticated online workshops and continue their education.
“We also continue to do our ‘learning labs’ which were always conducted by professionals who were visiting us from abroad. This year, of course, they could not come here because of the pandemic, but they still joined us online,” noted Papazian.
This is how Erik Aznauryan, a PhD student at Harvard University, taught students how to reproduce the model of the World Health Organization COVID-19 testing platform.
“I think every time I make something with TUMO, either online or offline, I’m very happy to see how easily the TUMO students, who really represent students from all parts of Armenia, grasp this knowledge which is sometimes difficult to master. That’s actually what motivates many people to do this type of thing,” said Aznauryan.
Students also discussed the pandemic from a more creative angle with Andranik Babayan, who led an online filmmaking workshop. During this workshop, TUMO students, or Tumonians, were exploring how quarantine and self-isolation changed their lives both physically and emotionally.
“For my film, I decided to make my grandmother the central character, because if we will be isolated for only a few months, she has been in isolation for a year due to old age,” noted Angelnina Afyan, a workshop participant.
Another participant,Hovhannes, created a story about his car. “My story is a little bit different from others’ because it is not about a person.”
For Hovhannes, who joined the workshop from Gyumri, the defining feature of isolation was his inability to roam around the city driving his car. “I shoot myself washing my car in the garage, taking care of it and being nostalgic of the careless times when we could enjoy Gyumri’s evening streets together.”
At the end of the workshop, the students will create a short film that would reflect on how each of them experienced isolation. “The small, individual stories would connect with each other like a chain, showing the larger impact of the pandemic,” said Andranik Babayan.
Leo Antolini’s workshop on character design didn’t focus on COVID-19, instead allowed students to digress from this subject and creating their own cartoon characters. Even though the Argentinian illustrator led the workshop from Barcelona, according to him the classes went rather smoothly. “This is my first online workshop, and although at first it was a little strange, we got used to it very quickly.”
For many Tumonians, the online workshops also solved the issue of transportation. Erik Mnacakanyan lives in Byurakan, which is far from Yerevan’s Tumo Center. He said that he often would not make it to the workshops because of the distance.
“Now it is very easy for me because I no longer have to think about the hours I spend on the road.” Erik joined Seda Hayrapetyan’s programming workshop, at the end of which students create mobile applications related to their desired subject.
Hayrapetyan mentioned that these workshops connected the students from different TUMO branches. “For the first time, I have a chance to lead a workshop with Yerevan, Gyumri and Dilijan students.It is fun how instead of isolating, the pandemic in a way actually united us all,” she said.
“I think our lives will certainly be changed after the pandemic, and in the end it was a good lesson for us,” mentioned Marie Lou Papazian. “It gave us an opportunity to rethink the way we approach education and finally explore the online platform, and consider it as a means of providing our education also to the far off villages and regions of Armenia.”