The art of sharing positivity through a pandemic

By Ethan Mickelson

Fifty individual tabs stretch out chaotically across the top of a web browser as I begin to write this article.

It’s a typical sight for any writer as a story comes together. On a normal day, the tabs might consist of anything from recent news stories, social media links or images for inspiration.

But this is no typical deep dive into the web. Today, these tabs represent an entire year of articles that I’ve written on arts and culture news as part of my work with The Arts Partnership.

With the goal of uplifting and celebrating the creative community, my writing most often comes in the form of straight-forward features about individual artists, arts organizations and the people that devote each and every day to adding joy to the world.

I’m typically tucked away in the background behind the words I type, but the new year has me wanting to come out from behind my writing.

Looking back on the year, it’s almost impossible to put myself in the mindset of the typical office setting. It feels like a lifetime ago that I posed for a picture with my very own article in hand in February 2020.

Back then, I was attending events and previewing art happenings with ease. I kept a list in my phone of all the stuff I had made it to, including flamenco dance performances, photo shoots and art exhibitions.

I would meet up with artists to get creative and drive across town for an interview that might last 10 minutes or a few hours.

In fact, as I reflect on the unusual year, I’m left wondering if I am even more in touch than ever before, making connections with artists online and going straight to the source.

There was an adjustment conducting interviews virtually, but soon I began putting myself out there and inviting people to go live on social media for interviews where our respective audiences could join in on the conversation — another first in a seemingly isolated world.

Even as I had my finger on the pulse of the blossoming internet art world and received incredible images from the artists and people enjoying it, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated by the shifting tide.

I missed the comfort of a tangible piece of paper, from newspapers to postcards of upcoming events.

Staring into a screen all day long with no real human interaction was taking its toll. I woke up every day peering into my horoscope wondering if it would offer me some advice.

Whether I believed the astrological advice I read or not wasn’t the point — it was a comfort during a time when I was creating stories and trying to share positivity in a scary, frustrating and numb time. I simply missed sharing with co-workers about my upcoming stories.

It was around this time that I got a brief but impactful piece of advice that served to reanimate my passion for writing at the start of a long journey into the “new normal.”

“Never underestimate the power of good news during bad times,” wrote Mark Kolsted, a retired Fargo Public Schools teacher who has become one of my biggest supporters.

To this day, he texts me after he reads my articles to give me feedback and graciously provides story ideas, pushing me forward even when it feels like I’m sinking into a pit of procrastination.

We discuss how the world is changing, how he is holding up and the impact a piece of writing can have on a confused world full of statistics and percentages.

Around the time he provided this memorable advice, I discovered a new appetite for the news and made every effort to make my articles fit in between the lines of some tough news stories.

Every week, I discovered a new perspective on the illness. Kids made the news. People in grocery stores made the news. Mail delivery people made the news. And, yes, artists made the news.

It was as if other writers just like me were searching for a unique perspective on everyday angles, trying to make sense of the overall crisis through the finite stories of individual life.

As I trudged along, I found inspiration from the authors, actors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, painters, teachers and students continuing their crafts and reaching out further into the world to share their work.

I wrote about a group of photographers using an early form of the craft involving complicated chemistry and old accordion-style cameras to capture new perspectives.

I found people in public and got their reactions to new public artworks, like the skybridge mural above Broadway in downtown Fargo. It was a source of color in the monochromatic pattern of my days working from home.

I met young artists online continuing to pour energy into their passions, whether it was music, theater or launching their careers.

And last but not least, I learned that art was more important than ever — not just for me, but for everyone who was able to read and share about it, piercing a veil of pandemic frustrations.

As you read this with 2020 in the rearview mirror, think of this less as a reflection and more of a resolution of sorts. From one writer to a community of artists, creators and hopeful people determined to make a change and share positivity through art.

With any luck, we will smile at the thought of the art that has brought us through this tough time.

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Tania Blanich is the Arts Partnership’s Director of Operations

Tania Blanich - Director of Operations - The Arts Partnership