Micro-Grants Awarded to 12 Art Projects Addressing COVID-19

a poster for the CREATE winners

The CREATE! Micro-Grant Program has selected 12 student projects to each receive $500 to respond critically and imaginatively to events occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the winning projects also will reflect on the fight for social justice in the Black Lives Matter movement, producing art that responds to struggles brought on by the pandemic and acts of police brutality.

“We owe these students every opportunity to build skills that will help them take care of themselves, be safe in material and immaterial ways, and fight the many political battles ahead to secure a world more worthy of their talent and spirit,” said Divya Victor, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Transitional Poetry, who was responsible for organizing the competition and providing a platform for these students. “I am looking forward to how these young artists will make artworks that reflect their approach to the very real and very particular challenges of their generation.”

We owe these students every opportunity to build skills that will help them take care of themselves, be safe in material and immaterial ways, and fight the many political battles ahead to secure a world more worthy of their talent and spirit.

Dr. Divya Victor

The CREATE! Micro-Grant Program winners will be utilizing a variety of expressive mediums to portray their message. Each submission was examined by a group of seven jurors from MSU and the Lansing area, with proposed works only being accepted from currently enrolled undergraduate students at MSU.

The winning projects will be displayed in fall 2020 in a virtual exhibit supported by the MSU College of Arts & Letters.

Student Winners and Their Projects

Jason Dernay, senior Fine Arts in Acting and Arts Management double major, and Nate Davis, junior Acting major, will create a 10-episode podcast where they will interview multiple artists and discuss how the pandemic has affected them and the art industry.                                    

“By interviewing professional artists, from musicians to photographers to comedians, we want to highlight adapting collaborative art to social distancing, the individualized and market impacts of the pandemic, how they have persevered in their art, and their future as an artist,” Dernay and Davis said.

Collage image of two men smiling at the camera
Jason Dernay and Nate Davis

Hugh Downs, sophomore Jazz Studies Performance major, will showcase his original Jazz performance, Here We Go Again, to provoke critical reflection during the pandemic and to invoke healing.         

“The goals of my project will be achieved by engaging participants to explore themes of anxiety, sadness, and loss,” Downs said, “which have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, and resilience of the human spirit through this listening experience.”

Man in a suit looking at the camera
Hugh Downs

Paula Duva-Rodriguez, junior Vocal Performance and English Literature double major, will create a combination of poetry and images of her body, titled In Process, to represent mental illness in the time of a pandemic.

“I had a really difficult time during quarantine with the combination of coming to terms with personal trauma from this past year and the trauma enacted on me due to quarantine,” Duva-Rodriguez said. “As a result, I want to be undeniably myself while completing my project; this is where the true beauty of emotional growth is seen.”

Woman in a purple shirt smiling at the camera
Paula Duva-Rodriguez

Jack Huber, junior Integrative Biology major, will create a personal essay discussing the loss of his grandmother during the pandemic and the social value of funerals.         

“The pandemic has taken lives and will take many more before a vaccine is found,” Huber said. “My essay will try to bring this fact to people’s attention through my own personal story and the stories of others.”

Man in a checkered shirt looking at the camera
Jack Huber

Devin McKinney, senior Media and Information major, and Donte Smith, senior Film Studies major, will create a video project that addresses how the pandemic has affected the community as well as how the public consumes media.                                              

“A picture is really worth a thousand words and people can really discover something about themselves through someone else’s artwork,” McKinney and Smith said. “Without creativity, imagine the lack of invention in the world, we would never evolve as a society.”

black and white image of two men walking down a street
Devin McKinney and Donte Smith

Jake Gerard Price, junior Arts and Humanities major, will perform a contemporary dance, titled Fractures & Folds, set to Nils Frahm’s track “Less” to portray and address the societal impact of the virus.

“The feeling of isolation and seclusion were two emotions I felt immensely during the three-month stay-at-home order,” Price said. “I know I am not the only one who felt that way. I want to encourage and remind people that exploration is still possible when confined in your place of living.”

Man in a navy blue t shirt leaning on a window smiling at the camera
Jake Gerard Price

Marshall Ross, junior Acting major, will create a film that follows a man alone in isolation during the lock-down order, highlighting the effects of anxiety/depression.                

“I don’t necessarily have some grand world changing message I need to put out into the world right now, but I am living in this time, I see what’s going on, I am affected by it, and I wish to capture myself and my experience during this trying time,” Ross said. “Maybe it can give some perspective on the state of the world, maybe it can create a bigger clearer picture of the state of humanity.”

Man in a red jacket with short hair smiling at the camera
Marshall Ross

Marissa Rubaiai, junior Studio Art and Media and Information double major, will create an art installation of three human forms that each tell a story about death suffrage at the hands of COVID-19 and police brutality.             

“At first I made this with only COVID-19 in mind. The more I think about it, the more I see the connection in other things as well,” Rubaiai said. “It could also represent the separation we feel from the discrimination in America. Along with emotional pain when someone dies from racist acts or police brutality.”

Woman in a black shirt and an orange hat kneeling in front of the camera
Marissa Rubaiai

Lauren Slawin, freshman Creative Advertising and Graphic Design double major, will create a video portraying the injustices in predominantly Black areas to bring light to racial discrimination.

“I have numerous friends who are Black, and after talking with them and seeing things happen to them in front of my face, that has left me angry,” Slawin said. “The theme of my overall project is equality.”

Woman in a blue and white dress smiling at the camera
Lauren Slawin

Emma Stoolmaker, junior Art Education major, will create a large-scale collaged postcard addressed to Rome, Italy, to invoke communication and sensitivity during the pandemic, as well as acting as a tribute to a city that suffered greatly.               

“Not only is this a response to international circumstance and travel in the midst of a pandemic, but also a way to highlight how, in this generation especially, connectivity is often taken for granted,” Stoolmaker said. “Being in a new shared space with people of all backgrounds was once easy, but for the time being is now nearly impossible.”

Woman in a yellow shirt smiling at the camera
Emma Stoolmaker

Sarah Whitaker, sophomore Percussion Performance major, will combine prose, music, soundscape, and writing to push the boundaries of comfort in relation to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.           

“I’m not sure of the meaning of art for me or my community just yet,” Whitaker said, “but I know that if it was something that was discouraged when the art was Black and encouraged when the same art was white, then involving myself in arts is liberation.”

a girl with dark hair wearing a stripped halter top
Sarah Whitaker

Jenna M. Wood, senior Apparel and Textile Design major, will create a mask using traditional Anishinaabe quill work as a tribute to the smallpox outbreak that occurred in her tribe, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.                                            

“As I go through the slow and meticulous process of quill working in these uncertain times of modern quarantine,” Wood said, “this mask and its process also serves as a reminder for myself that resilience and the will to survive runs through the blood in my veins.”

portrait of a women with long hair wearing a black shirt
Jenna M. Wood

Written by Alec Parr