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The pieces featured in the exhibition underwent an inclusive selection process, which included input from students, staff, faculty members of Michigan State University, as well as members of the Greater Lansing community and beyond. In order to be chosen for the exhibit, each piece had to tell a powerful story about the artist’s inner truth regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the impact of the pandemic on artists who were disproportionately affected. The art on display emphasizes the importance of advocacy through creativity, showcasing the power of art to inspire and spark change in the world.

Unboxing art

Nancy Dejoy, curator of the exhibit and professor at Michigan State University, said this exhibit emerged the same way as many of her projects: through work with her students.

“At the start of the lockdown when all of our classes went online, I gave my first-year writing students the opportunity to do creative final projects instead of writing traditional essays to help us all deal with the stresses of the pandemic. At the time, I was also working with a graduate student who knew of another faculty member using creativity in her classes. We started to realize how important creativity was becoming as we faced the realities of COVID-19. We wanted to find a way to add the voices of people who were both disproportionately affected by the pandemic and using creativity in their everyday lives to the stories we tell about the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Over 80 artists worldwide submitted artwork to be featured in this exhibit. Creativity in the Time of COVID-19: Art for Equity and Social Justice features artwork from all seven continents.

To gather the pieces and connect with artists from all over the world, a survey was created and made available in English and four other languages, including options for sign language and Braille, ensuring that artists from all backgrounds could participate. Grassroots efforts were made by reaching out to art organizations to distribute the survey. The survey provided an opportunity for artists to submit their work and be a part of the exhibit, allowing for a diverse range of art forms to be showcased in the project. At the Lansing physical and digital exhibits, labels and other additional  materials help to tell the stories we heard from people whose work was selected for our exhibits.

Phase One (May–June 2021):

May–June 2021: The survey is created and circulated through community partners and collaborators to call for artists from around the world to submit their works. Review of early submissions to begin developing a rubric in collaboration with Michigan State University and representatives from community partners.

Phase Two (June 2021–February 2023):

June–August 2021: Development of the rubric for the selection process after initial submissions come in.

May 2022: The selection committee is formed and begins the selection process.

October 2022: The art is selected, and artists begin receiving confirmation that their work has been accepted for the exhibit.

A painting of a sunset next to a painting of some fruit

November 2022–February 2023: Artists ship their works from all over the world to Lansing, Michigan.

Phase Three (April 2023):

April 2023: The exhibit opens to the public in Lansing with five locations, including Frandor Sears Building, Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, REACH Studio Art Center, Impression 5 Science Center, and Refugee Development Center.

This project showcases a diverse range of art forms, including immersive digital installations, traditional paintings, intricate clay and glass sculptures, and much more. Because all of the pieces were created during the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists turned to unconventional household materials to fuel their creativity during such a challenging time in history.

Throughout the project, efforts to ensure inclusivity and accessibility for all sites was at the center of the design process. This included the translation of the survey into 15 languages, including sign language and Braille options, and the involvement of community partners and collaborators to reach a diverse range of artists. The project aimed to showcase the power of art to inspire, connect, and advocate for change, particularly in the face of a global pandemic.