For many, art creates a place to express uncertainty, loneliness, and new ways of navigating life and relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help share the work of writers, painters, photographers, musicians, and other artists in the Great Lakes Bay Region, the Saginaw Art Museum and the Saginaw Valley State University Center for Community Writing created The Quarantine Chronicles. The website features a broad range of work from artists throughout the region. A submission button on the front page allows artists to continue uploading work to the site.
Route talked about The Quarantine Chronicles with three of the organizers – Thor Rasmussen, Saginaw Art Museum marketing and creativity manager; Helen Raica-Klotz, director of the SVSU University Writing Center and co-director of the SVSU Center for Community Writing; and Chris Giroux, assistant director of the SVSU Writing Center and co-director of the SVSU Center for Community Writing.
Q: What kind of art are people submitting?
Rasmussen: There has been a broad spectrum of people submitting to the project.
Raica-Klotz: We’ve seen excerpts from journals, drawings, paintings, photography, poems, videos, music – all sorts of creative work.
Rasmussen: Submissions have crossed boundaries of age, gender, and even geographic location. While a majority of the submissions have been received from residents of the Great Lakes Bay Region, we have had contributions from as far away as New York.
Q: Is there any type of art you encourage?
Rasmussen: One of the unique parts about this project is the way that different people are expressing themselves. Our hope is that whatever creative outlet an individual uses it helps move the participant through these unusual times.
Raica-Klotz: This project reminds us that being creative, and using that creative expression to understand ourselves and the world around us, is a big part of being human.
Q: Have you seen anything especially striking?
Rasmussen: Bad times do seem to encourage art.
We received some video submissions that are really striking. With the accessibility to digital cameras and video capabilities it is neat to see the way that the art is reflecting the time period we are living through.
Raica-Klotz: One submission that struck me was a grandmother who was missing the ability to hug her grandchildren, so she made a life-size poster cut-out of herself with her arms stretched out, put a picture of her face on it, and posted it in her grandchildren’s yard. She called it “grandma hugs.”
Giroux: Beyond experiencing all the artwork, the Zoom conference call that the Saginaw Art Museum held really reminded me of our common humanity. Hearing one artist (Angela) speak of her process of taking photographs via Zoom, particularly a photograph of an individual actually ill in bed with the virus, was particularly moving. The artist’s experience and her subjects haven’t personally been mine, but they both remind me that they are indeed mine – they are everyone’s.
Q: Is there any plan to hold an exhibit when it's safe for people to gather?
Rasmussen: We would like to gather people together at some point. Obviously, there are restrictions in place right now, but hopefully this project lays the groundwork for future connections. Recently, we did host a Zoom meeting that allowed participants to share their work along with a little bit more information about the process they went through to make their creations. Continuing to build a creative community will help strengthen our region.
Q: What is the therapeutic value of creating and enjoying art during a crisis?
Rasmussen: Especially in the information age we are living in, where there is a constant source of news and information available, art can be a way of sorting out information and creating focus. The observation of art can lead to better observation of one's surroundings and create a more enriching life experience. Even if someone does not consider themselves an artist, there is opportunity for creative expression outside the bounds of what may be traditionally considered art.
Another value art can have in a time of crisis is the connection it makes within a community. When there is a shared experience, whether by reading the same book or viewing the same painting or participating in the same art activity, the creative experience can strengthen relationships.
Raica-Klotz: In essence, art is the basis for self-reflection and connection. It’s one of the few mediums that allows us to be seen as individuals, drawing on our own feelings and experiences, while simultaneously connecting us to other people through the sharing of our work.
I’d also add that Thor designed the website so that you can scroll through all the submissions, one after the other. It’s a bit like walking through a gallery exhibit – you see one piece, then another, then another. It’s a very experiential website, since we wanted the viewer to be immersed in the words and images.
The idea for The Quarantine Chronicles came from an article I read in The New York Times, which talked about soliciting stories from readers during the pandemic for the Times’ Quarantine Diaries. Since the SVSU Center for Community Writing works to engage our community in writing, I thought this was a perfect project for our region. We were lucky enough to partner with the Saginaw Art Museum, whose mission is to promote the arts. It’s a perfect collaboration.
We’re pleased to have a number of other community sponsors as well, listed below, including other arts organizations and public libraries in our region:
We are still accepting submissions. Anyone can visit the site, click on the blue “submit” button, answer some brief questions, and attach their work. It’s a powerful way to be part of the larger community’s recorded experience of the pandemic.