The North Dakota Museum of Art has devised a way to encourage people to make and share artwork and images that depict the physical separateness imposed on everyone as a result of the spread of the coronavirus.

The museum has launched a project, titled “Art in Isolation,” to capture the creative images and the imaginative things people are doing as they deal with the worldwide health emergency.

Images are flowing in electronically, from places as distant as New York City and St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as regionally. They will be printed on paper and pinned in a large, collage-type display on the gallery wall of the museum’s mezzanine level.

The display will be a visual record of how people coped, and the value of creativity, at a time of social isolation.

The project also is a means of making connections at a time when people are avoiding social interaction for fear of exposure to the coronavirus, said Michael Conlan, the museum’s registrar and exhibition coordinator.

“It’s a way to social distance (ourselves) and also stay together,” Conlan said.

The display will evolve, growing and spreading as more images are received and added.

“We’re not laying this out on a grid,” he said. “It will take on its own shape.”

Conlan envisions “one, hopefully gigantic, piece -- very much like a quilt, but it’ll read as one piece.”

The images will be posted on the museum website, where contributors “can scroll down and find theirs,” Conlan said.

In some ways, the gallery display echoes the work of New York City artist Barton Benes in gathering and presenting an assemblage of items, each with a personal story to tell, memorializing the flood that devastated this region in 1997, said Matthew Anderson, education director.

When group assembly is once again permitted, instead of a formal exhibit opening -- which usually launches an art exhibition -- the museum will host a “celebration closing” for visitors to come and see the visual record of how we coped, and the value of creativity, during the social isolation, Anderson said.

The museum first issued a call online Tuesday, March 24, asking people to send up to three images “of artwork or any other means of being creative in the current situation we find ourselves in,” he said.

Within 24 hours of announcing the project, the museum’s Facebook page had received 20,000 views, Anderson said. “Hopefully, this really takes off.”

Anderson and Conlan expect the project to continue as long as the social distancing requirement is in effect.

Images are welcome from anybody, not just artists. Anderson and Conlan have been encouraging people who are interested but hesitate because they don’t think of themselves as artists.

And “it doesn’t have to be drawing a picture or traditional art,” Anderson said. “It can be a photo from your living room or around the house or of you stepping outside for a walk -- anything that is showing how everyone is staying active.”

So far, the museum has received more than 70 images via email.

The people behind the responses are wide-ranging, from school-age children to educators to fine artists. Subject matter ranges from loaves of bread to etchings.

“We got a nice picture of a marbled loaf of bread -- way to make me hungry,” Conlan joked.

Anderson hopes this project will encourage people to redirect their energy and focus on making and sharing art, a process they can control at a time when “it’s scary out there, and you realize how many things you can’t control,” he said.

“We want to move that anxiety to a place that’s a little more healthy,” he said. “You can take that energy and put it into a daily creative practice or direct it to something positive.

“I feel that’s what is going to get us through this together.”

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