As the university closed in the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis, so did the physical space of our gallery. In this time of shared vulnerability and isolation, it felt imperative that we be responsive and connect directly with the artists in our communities. With the support of a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we translated plans for a summer regional art exhibition into our newly created virtual series House Calls: Virtual Studio Visits with Michigan Artists in a Pandemic. Every week, our gallery team makes a virtual studio visit to a regional artist from communities across the state of Michigan. Each artist is commissioned to participate in the project and receives an honorarium for their engagement.
Our outreach and impact are immediate, like a first aid kit for artists, asking the questions, “How are you doing?” “What is the value of the arts during times of crisis?” “How do you find hopefulness in this moment?” The series offers a twist on the more predictable gallery visit format which is often carefully choreographed, formal, “ready for company.” House Calls focuses on something more personal instead.
As artists walk us through their spaces, very real conversations in the midst of crisis emerge. Sarah Rose Sharp discussed the strength she has drawn from going through the pandemic while living in Detroit. Judy Bowman from Romulus shows us art created with her 90-year-old mother while in isolation together. Sajeev Visweswaran, who splits his time between Ann Arbor and New Delhi, India, touched on his sense of privilege in being able to go through the pandemic in the U.S. instead of India.
Grand Rapids artist Mandy Villalobos revealed oranges she is hand embroidering based upon Greek mythology. In all these small details, it becomes apparent that our human connections are what remain most critical. We are reminded of what’s missing—all the comings and goings, the ideas shared, the small human exchanges that make our university and communities vibrant. House Calls offer intimacy and sustenance during a time of social distancing, reaffirming that our human relationships and our commitment to one another can be reparative even in a new world unrecognizable.