At the dawn of Nevada's stay-at-home orders last year, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art launched a community outreach program: A Drawing a Day Keeps the Pandemic Away. From March 18-April 30, 2020, the museum posted daily art prompts on its Instagram account to try to become a source of connection between UNLV and the Las Vegas community through making and sharing art.
In a little over a month, the museum received more than 790 works of art from around the United States and the world, with submissions reaching Las Vegas from locales as far-flung as Turkey and Australia.
A Drawing a Day collected drawings, sketches, collages, painting, and even a musical instrument as creators worked through their feelings of dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The exhibit was curated by senior Emmanuel Muñoz, who is studying architecture and art history. Between November 2020 and January 2021, Muñoz interviewed A Drawing a Day artists to find out what they learned through the project. Here are four lessons from a unique moment in time.
Art improves wellness
The connection between art and well-being is well-known, with research and personal anecdotes attesting to the health advantages of making and experiencing art. Many artists in A Drawing a Day note the benefits that contributing had on their own well-being.
UNLV architecture professor Glenn Nowak saw it as a way to infuse some variety into the daily grind of pandemic life. California artist Stephanie Sumler found it helped her overcome “imposter syndrome” and express herself. Boston resident Georgina Lewis saw the project as a “democratic” and unifying endeavor because it was open to all. This sense of human connection offers a powerful antidote to the stress of isolation.
Las Vegas artist Heidi Rider said contributing to the project helped her process difficult feelings brought on by the pandemic.
"My world and my creative self have been nothing but emotions," she said. "Despair, helplessness, grief, fear, loneliness. It’s been a barrage of emotions.”
Exposing these vulnerabilities were essential to Rider’s art and her ability to process her emotions, and responses to her work confirmed her belief that art helps people heal. Artist Jeff Musser said, "Art is not frivolous. It’s one of the things that’s going to get us through what we’re going through right now.”
Everyone should cultivate regular artistic practice
You don't need to be a working artist to make art. Humans are creative beings with artistic impulses. Unfortunately, these inclinations often get pushed to the wayside in our busy world.
While Rider is a professional artist and performer in Absinthe at Caesars Palace, it was during the pandemic that she finally resumed work in her home studio. She hopes the pandemic’s silver lining is for people to get back in touch with themselves and their purpose.
“I used to draw a whole lot more than what I do as a professor," said Nowak, who is an assistant professor of architecture. "Now more creative energies are put into preparing lectures and just providing feedback.”
Nowak stepped outside the confines of architecture for his piece, Curly Head CBG, his self-made musical instrument.
“I wasn’t working on it prior to the pandemic. It was something I had in my mind," he said. "I bought a piece of wood, just a standard one-by-three, a couple of years ago. And really, I’ve just been so busy. I never did anything with it. It was probably a few weeks into the shutdown that I thought, ‘if I’m not going to make time to do this now, I’m never going to build any instrument.’”
Art education matters
Art education instills creativity, teamwork, critical thinking, confidence, and self-awareness that helps with learning traditional subjects like reading and math. Children also need opportunities to learn art skills and hone their creativity.
A series of drawings by 10 students from Pat Diskin Elementary School present some striking examples of why children’s artwork should not only be viewed as legitimate but celebrated as they hang among the professional exhibitions in the Barrick and look right at home.
Kylee Zimmerman and Justo Almanza in particular stand out. Their drawings, My Galaxy and Dark Night, are a response to the prompt that asked participants to “make a drawing inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.”
These submissions contain as much hope and meaning as the original work that inspired them, Munoz said.
Inspiration can turn a negative into a positive
Inspiration comes in many forms and is often not as elusive as we believe it to be. Even amid the pandemic and the stress that it unleashed, artists were able to tap into their muses. Rider drew inspiration from her emotions. Nowak drew inspiration from music. Inspiration can also be deceptively simple.
Architecture student and rising junior Daniel Magaña said that for him, it began with a line.
“If I just want to draw a random thing, I just make a line through the drawing. And I kind of let that line be the focus point. With one line you can develop anything really. You could develop speakers, headphones, a keyboard, the sky.”