GTPulse: ‘Stay Safe’ Mask Exhibit Reflects on A Year of Solitude

I remember thinking about a year ago at the fence about treating myself to a set of five cloth masks that I liked. At this point, I was grateful to have a homemade mask and I didn’t know how long it would take. In my hope there was still a foggy thought that maybe it would all be over before summer. Now, a year later, we are still covering our faces and I have put together a nice collection of different masks.

A traveling art exhibition shows Maks, but not the one we’re used to. Over 1,000 residents of northern Michigan have created paper mache masks that represent who they were, are, and become since the pandemic began as part of the Stay Safe masks exhibit curated by Michigan Legacy Art Park.

In order to give people access and a feeling of connectedness in a time of isolation, the Art Park gtDirector of Education, Patricia Innis, came up with the idea for the mask exhibition “Stay Safe”. The project is the result of an original collaboration between Legacy Art Park and the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. The Ramsdell was home to over 400 masks in February created by individuals from across the state and across the country, including international artist James Earl Jones.

Many of the participants are local students and Arts For All students. They used masks as a medium to express activities, emotions and thoughts that they experienced during the pandemic.

“When Patricia came up with this idea, she said that there must be a way for us to relate the pandemic to art, and especially to give children the opportunity to express themselves. It was very therapeutic and a great way to have discussions and conversations about the pandemic when they do something with a different type of mask and artwork, ”said Madeline Saucedo, Interim Executive Director of Legacy Art Park.

The exhibition is on the move and currently resides at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City through April 17th. Initially the exhibition started with around 30 Maks from people in the Legacy Art Park and has grown steadily to over 1,000. The display at Crooked Tree includes masks from students from Central, Benzie, Frankfort, and Arts For All.

The masks all tell a different story of the person behind them. While some dealt directly with the pandemic, others embraced the extravaganza or fantasy. Whether silly, sparkling, serious or colorful, the masks make you think.

“They can say what they think and you can work with them on many masks,” said Monica Stokes, associate at Galleries. “You can see how cultural discussions are integrated into these masks.”

Madeline pointed out that another thread running through some of the masks divides the face in half. I’m drawn to these faces because I feel different now than I did a year ago. Over the course of the year I lost myself in thoughts about how we were all permanently changed by the pandemic and what this means for us in the future. I feel different than I did a year ago, and you probably do too. Whether the mask represents change or duality, there is no good or bad side, and I find that reassuring.

Seven local schools participated in the Stay Safe mask exhibition, including Traverse City High School, Traverse City West and Central High Schools, Benzie County High Schools, Frankfort High School, and Arts for All. The project has expanded to California.

The exhibition opened on April 1st and will be on view at the Crooked Tree Arts Center until April 17th. The exhibition is open to the public from Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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