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

Around a year ago I remember being on the fence about whether or not I should splurge on a set of five fabric masks that I liked. At that point, I was grateful to have one homemade mask, and I didn’t know how long of a haul it was going to be. In my hopefulness, there was still a foggy thought that maybe it would all be over before summertime. Now, a year later, we’re still covering our faces and I’ve accrued a nice collection of different masks.

A traveling art exhibit is showcasing maks, but not the ones we’re used to. Over 1,000 Northern Michigan residents have created paper mache masks that represent who they were, are, and are becoming since the pandemic began as part of the ‘Stay Safe’ Masks Exhibit, curated by .

In an effort to give people an outlet and a sense of connection to one another in a time of isolation, Art Park Director of Education Patricia Innis came up with the idea for the ‘Stay Safe’ Masks Exhibit. The project has grown from an original collaboration between Legacy Art Park and the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. The Ramsdell hosted over 400 masks created by individuals from across the state and country in February, including from international artist James Earl Jones.

Many of the participants are local high school students and Arts For All students. They used the paper mache masks as a canvas to express activities, emotions and thoughts they experienced through the pandemic. 

“When Patricia came up with this idea she said that there has to be a way for us to tie in the pandemic to art, and also give kids, in particular, an opportunity to express themselves. So having them do something with a different kind of mask and artwork has been very therapeutic and a great way to have discussions and conversations about the pandemic,” said Madeline Saucedo, interim executive director of Legacy Art Park.

The exhibit is traveling and currently at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City until April 17th. Initially, the exhibit started with around 30 maks from folks at Legacy Art Park and has steadily grown to over 1,000. The display at Crooked Tree includes masks from Central, Benzie, Frankfort, and Arts For All students.

The masks all tell a different story of the person behind it. While some directly addressed the pandemic, others embraced the extravagant or fantasy. Whether silly, sparkly, serious, or colorful, the masks are thought-provoking.

“You can tell what they’re thinking and you can process with them on a lot of the masks,” said Galleries Associate Monica Stokes. “You can see how cultural discussions get integrated into these masks.”

Madeline pointed out that another common thread through some of the masks is splitting the face in half. I’m drawn to these faces because of how different I feel now versus a year ago. Throughout the year I’ve gotten lost in thought about how we’ve all been permanently changed by the pandemic, and what that means for us in the future. I feel different from who I was a year ago, and you probably do too. Whether the mask is depicting change or duality, there’s no good or bad side, and I find that comforting. 

Seven local schools have participated in the ‘Stay Safe’ Masks Exhibit including Traverse City High School, Traverse City West & Central High Schools, Benzie County High Schools, Frankfort High School, and Arts for All, among others. The project has stretched as far as California.

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


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