Student artists reach out from isolation through Artstart virtual gallery

Students have created more than 100 images for Artstart’s Shelter in Place virtual gallery, to be used later for public murals.|

Adults of all ages may recall warm memories of their high school years, but for today’s young people, the cold world of the coronavirus pandemic and the isolation it’s caused always will be part of the story.

“I feel kind of bummed, especially about graduation,” said Marcelo Diaz, 19, a 2020 alumnus of Santa Rosa High School. “I missed having my diploma handed to me and being with my friends.”

To help cope with feelings like that, Artstart, a local art training nonprofit founded in 1999, created an online gallery titled “Shelter in Place: A Visual Portrayal,” featuring drawings and paintings by students that eventually will be transformed into public art.

“The over 100 images and poignant artist statements we received from ‘Shelter in Place’ are being designed into murals,” said Jayne Burns, Artstart board president. “We are looking for appropriate walls, sponsors and funding.”

Each drawing and painting submitted is accompanied by an artist’s statement expressing the thoughts and feelings behind the artwork.

“Because of the social distancing, I have grown a greater appreciation for school, or the freedom of going outside in general,” wrote Angel Manansala, 14, a student at Elsie Allen High School.

The statements help define the experience of coming of age during our “new normal.”

“Here in Sonoma County, the masks that we wear have become as familiar as the skin on our faces because of the past fires destroying our homes and now this global pandemic,” wrote Rowena Mielock, 16, a student at Sonoma Academy. “I use art as a way to express how I'm feeling, and I have used this time to do more art than ever.”

Some of the students who submitted images to the digital “Shelter in Place“ gallery at also are working in socially distanced small groups and wearing masks at the organization’s headquarters in Santa Rosa.

“We’re all at separate tables and we rotate clockwise,” Diaz said in a phone interview.

He hopes that this project will not only help the participants but ultimately offer solace to everyone who sees the artwork.

“This is how we feel and how we think. We feel alone in some ways, or lost and confused,” Diaz said. “And in some ways, we’re finding harmony. And then we’ll make it. We’ll survive.”

For Elizabeth Zindler, 17, who will be a senior at Maria Carrillo High School this fall, working with the mural crew is a way to stay connected during a time of isolation.

“I’m drawing and designing a panel for the ‘Shelter in Place’ mural. It gives us a creative foundation to branch out with our own ideas under a lead artist,” she said during a recent phone interview.

“My piece of it is a statement on how social distancing affects you. A lot of things are uncertain right now,” she explained. “I have been focusing more on tightening my community and my friends.”

Artstart’s Creative Director Jennifer Tatum is staging a series of month-long mural preparation sessions with 20 to 30 participants, broken down into teams of five students and a lead artist, all observing strict health protocols.

She’s confident the student art will communicate the emotions caused by our current isolation to audiences of all ages.

“We’re all feeling it at some level, in our own gut,” Tatum said. “Trauma is ageless, but for a 14-year-old, isolation is an extreme experience.”

It will take time to prepare the art submitted to the online gallery for transfer to a mural, and Tatum plans to have her crews create a mockup of the final work in September. Then Artstart will need to find a local place for the mural.

“We want to paint it on a wall of a building that will serve as host for it, where people can walk by and take a close look,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at On Twitter @danarts.

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