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Although the coronavirus threw a wrench into many in-person celebrations over the past year, an exhibit of artwork from local students shows that restrictions can come with a silver lining of innovation.

The second-annual Creativity Unbound exhibit contains more than 100 works from students kindergarten through 8th grade on the Utah State University Campus. Students from Cache County, Logan and Box Elder school districts are featured in the exhibit, which runs through March 29.

USU’s Arts Are Core program is sponsoring the exhibit, hosted in the Lyndsley Wilkerson Gallery at the Sorenson Center for Clinical Excellence.

Last year’s exhibit opening packed the whole building, according to Aurora Villa, endowed program director for elementary arts education.

“We were disappointed that we couldn’t do that this year, but we thought, you know, second-best, let’s make our own opening,” Villa said, “let’s make a virtual art opening.”

The program hired a videographer to document the exhibit so those who didn’t feel comfortable visiting a public space during the pandemic could still see the students’ work. As organizers planned the virtual opening, they decided to expand to include interviews with students and teachers, Villa said.

“It gives people an insight into the process of creating art and what’s behind the scenes and how did they create the art and also how important it is for the students to exhibit their work and get their work out there into the community,” Villa said.

The virtual exhibit includes multiple interviews with students, art teachers and organizers, as well as a walk through of the exhibit.

The COVID-19 pandemic influenced the artwork, as well. Tayson Nguyen, a 4th grader at River Heights Elementary, drew a self-portrait where half of his face is masked and half is not.

“I just really like to draw my smile, but I’ve never drawn a mask before,” Nguyen says in a virtual exhibit video.

“That’s what they’re experiencing,” Villa said, “so when you’re making a self-portrait, of course you’d put yourself in a mask. But he decided to have half of it on, half of it off.”

Some students attending school online during the pandemic didn’t get access to art materials or face-to-face instruction time they may have otherwise, Villa said.

“I think it has impacted the artwork, but I definitely would say it’s been positive,” Villa said. “As far as quality, I think the quality is definitely there, and the creativity is absolutely there.”

To create the exhibit, the Arts Are Core program asked teachers at public and charter schools to submit 10 pieces each.

“I didn’t really think it would be in this art show and that it would be that good,” said Heritage Elementary 6th grader McKaylee Nelson. “I was really excited when my teacher told me it would be in here.”

The virtual exhibit is available online at teal.usu.edu/arts-are-core/creativity-unbound.

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