Smile Politely

Healing Hearts Community Collage to share pandemic stories in words and images

Throughout the past two years, the Smile Politely arts section has spotlighted the ways in which C-U artists have been impacted by the pandemic. We have also explored the work produced during and in response to life in COVID times. But the new Healing Hearts Community Collage project offers something new. Sponsored by the Museum of the Grand Prairie, it invites visual and literary artists of all ages and experience to contribute a response to the concurrent pandemics of COVID-19, systemic racism and other injustices, economic crisis, climate change, gun violence, and political polarization. 

The submissions will be brought together to form a multi-panel archival collage by mixed media artist Cindy Blair Sampson and will become part of the Museum’s new exhibition A History of Healing: Infectious Diseases and Community Responses to Defeat Them, as well as a part of the permanent collection. Anxious to learn more about this promising project, I reached out to Katie Snyder, Education Program Specialist at the Museum of the Grand Prairie. We spoke about the project’s inspiration and unique scope, as well as how our readers can get involved. 

Synder and the Museum staff have been working throughout the pandemic, collaborating on projects like Pandemic as Portal for Change. She remembers how during the initial lockdown we were hopeful that the multiple pandemics would lead to change. “I know people are really overwhelmed right now, because there’s a lot happening,” Snyder noted. “And the change isn’t necessarily the change that they were hoping for in the pandemic. But none of these things happened in isolation.” She goes on to highlight how the rise of COVID had such a big economic impact for so many. “They lost their jobs, their homes. We’ve seen a significant mental health crisis and continued food insecurity.” 

Photo of homemade food pantry set up on a front lawn.

Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Grand Prairie.

“And when we talk about racism, we are really talking about all of the -isms’. They all feed on each other, and they’re all interconnected.” As a result the MGP committee thought it important to “not just COVID-19, because that’s a very large part of what we’ve experienced. But it’s also a very small part of what’s been going on for the past two years. None of these things are more or less important than the other and they all flow in and out of each other. So we wanted people to be able to respond to all of those things.”

Synder also shared that the committee welcomes related themes that may not be on the list. “If you think of something else that really did affect you or someone you know… we’re welcoming those kinds of submissions. 

As of our conversation, we are a month into the call for submissions, with about a month still ahead. When I asked how it has been going and what she has observed so far, Snyder shared that a significant number of the entries have been photographs. While this wasn’t what she expected, she sees how so many of us used our phone cameras to document moments and moments, especially during the initial lockdown. 

Photo side of brick house with the words

Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Grand Prairie.

I had the opportunity to view some of the images myself and through so many of them I saw a strong sense of separation, countered by a desire for connection and a need to communicate with others. As someone who works among historical artifacts, Snyder observed that “if it was like 1800s, the documentation would be in journal form. But our documentation is in the photos we take photos of our lives.” 

Close up photo of an empty coffee cup with a haiku above it that reads

Photo courtesy of The Museum of the Grand Prairie.

Moving ahead, Snyder would like to see more text, “more more poems and lyrics.” And while she certainly doesn’t want to discourage people for sharing photos, she hopes that “if you’re a visual artist or maker who’s done some work during the pandemic, please take a photo and send it to us. That would really balance out the visual interest of the overall piece.” 

But most of all, Snyder hopes for two things. She wants to make the call for submissions process as welcoming and widespread as possible. See the information below for details about submissions specifications and an upcoming drop-in event which will offer materials, inspiration, and guidance. But most importantly, Snyder hopes that a century from now, future museum staff can take this collage out and see “what the people Champaign County really experienced. This will be a primary source document that will speak directly to that without any interpretation from us.” Summing it up, she observes, “it’s not about the Museum, or me, or the committee, or even Cindy. It’s about the community.”

Once the submissions have all been collected, they will be put into the capable and loving hands of mixed media artist Cindy Blair Sampson, who will be tasked with the considerable challenge of bringing a diverse range of content into a cohesive whole. When I caught up with Sampson, she shared that when she was asked to join the project she “couldn’t say no. I loved the idea that I could help make other people’s voices heard through art. Not just my own. For me, art helps us heal and process what our minds struggle with.”

While she has somewhat of a blueprint in mind, she knows that ultimately the submissions “will tell me what they should be.” She looks forward to bringing this collage together and hopes “it will reach people emotionalyl, knowing that they are not alone in the emotions that they felt. This has been a very lonely time in so many people lives.”

On July 10, The Museum of the Grand Prairie, in collaboration with the Urbana Free Library and the Urbana Arts and Culture Program, will be holding a two-hour drop-in event for those interested in creating submissions for the collage. Painter America Robelledo-Hernandez, mixed media artist Cindy Blair Sampson, and City of Urbana Youth Poet Laureate Danyla Nash will be on hand with inspiration and guidance. All materials will be provided. See more details below. 

Watch the recent Healing Hearts Community Collage Facebook Live Q & A. And download a copy of the submission form here

Healing Arts: Creativity and Community
July 10th, 2-4 p.m.
Lewis Auditorium
The Urbana Free Library
210 W Green St

Top photo courtesy of The Museum of the Grand Prairie.

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