CREATE! Micro-Grant Virtual Student Exhibition Launches

The 2022 CREATE! Micro-Grant Student Exhibition is now live! This virtual exhibit showcases the 12 student projects that were created based on the winning proposals that earned them $500 in micro-grant funding. 

The CREATE! Micro-Grant initiative encourages students to respond critically and imaginatively to events occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic and to creatively explore the issues of their generation. The goal is to critically engage, through art, with the past, present, or future of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo with wording, 2022 virtual exhibition,, supporting a creative life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beside the words are photos of numerous people.

Offered by the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University and facilitated by the Dean’s Arts Advisory Council (DAAC), this is the third year the CREATE! Micro-Grant competition has been held. The first was in 2020. The program is supported by several units across the university and by the MSU Federal Credit Union.

“We’re thrilled to see the CREATE! Micro-Grants continue into their third year. The work being generated by our student artists wrestling with our contemporary moment is proof that this monetary support matters. It offers opportunity to experiment, to reflect, to celebrate, and to protest,” said Peter Johnston, Co-Director of the CREATE! Micro-Grant Program and Department of English faculty member. “The amazing stewardship of the co-founders, Divya Victor and Rob Roznowski, has taken this grant program to an exciting height, and the DAAC is committed to continuing to see what our support can help our students achieve.” 

“We’re thrilled to see the CREATE! Micro-Grants continue into their third year. The work being generated from our student artists wrestling with our contemporary moment is proof that this monetary support matters.”

Peter Johnston, Co-Director of the CREATE! Micro-Grant Program

Unlike most student award programs, the CREATE! Micro-Grant initiative invests in the potential of a student’s vision, rather than the end product. Students of all majors are encouraged to submit their proposals for the competition each year. A group of jurors then selects 12 proposals to each receive $500 to be used to complete the winning proposed projects. 

This year’s student winners represent a variety of disciplines and undergraduate majors including Apparel and Textile Design, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Electrical Engineering, English, Interdisciplinary Studies, Marketing, Music Composition and Performance, Psychology, Saxophone Performance, Social Work, and Studio Art. The projects themselves include Anishinaabe beadwork embroidery, collage art pieces, folk-rock concept album, music composition, an oil painting, poetry, playwriting, sculptures, and videography.

“Our students amaze us and move us each year with their creativity, talent, and drive as they take on these projects.”

Alexis Black, Co-Director of the CREATE! Micro-Grant Program

“Our students amaze us and move us each year with their creativity, talent, and drive as they take on these projects,” said Alexis Black, Co-Director of the CREATE! Micro-Grant Program and Assistant Professor of Theatre. “The DAAC and the college cannot wait to see how MSU artists will continue to take the lead in a changing artistic landscape through the sharing of their unique viewpoints and modes of expression, both within the CREATE! Micro-Grant opportunity and beyond.”  

The virtual exhibit was designed and curated collaboratively by Black, Johnston, and Cameryn Hatfield, an Experience Architecture junior.

The following are the 12 student projects that received 2022 CREATE! Micro-Grant funding and are featured in the virtual exhibit:  

Esme Bailey, a senior English major with minors in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and American Indian and Indigenous Studies, created a contemporary interpretation of traditional Anishinaabe beadwork embroidery. The piece explores how she found her identity as an Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman) and the ways in which this helped her overcome the mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges she has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ava Ballagh, a junior Social Work major with minors in Theatre and Human Behavior Social Services, wrote a play that highlights the impacts of the pandemic on art education told through a Zoom video screen. Focusing on issues such as mental health, Ballagh utilized the distant nature of online learning to display its ability to hide the truth behind a screen.

Abbey Behan, a senior double major in Studio Art and Packaging, produced a large-scale oil painting illustrating personal narratives from her time during the lockdown of 2020.

Morgan Davis, a sophomore Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major, wrote a poem tied to the theme of “home.” Through this poem, she explores themes of xenophobia toward Asian people, Black Lives Matter protests, death toll statistics viewing, reproductive rights, and the global decline in mental health. 

Ryan Freund, a sophomore Studio Art major, used a balisong, or butterfly knife, to create a sculpture symbolizing growth and unity amid the pandemic.

Robin Morales, a senior Interdisciplinary Studies major in Social Science Education with a Chicano/Latino Studies Minor, and Brendan Smith, a senior Marketing major, partnered to create an original folk-rock concept album, exploring the theme of longing through lyrics that touch on depression, personal alienation, longing for justice, peace, and human love.

Jacob Nance, a Master’s of Music Performance student, and Natalia Warthen, a senior Saxophone Performance major with minors in Arts and Cultural Management and Entrepreneurship and Innovation, commissioned seven composers to create original duo works on the saxophone. They gave the commissioned artists the freedom to explore whatever themes they wish as an outlet for the creative repression and restraints imposed by the pandemic.

Mate Paa Kwesi Narh, a sophomore Electrical Engineering major with a minor in Computer Science, used videography to express the themes of hope and healing during and after the pandemic and tackled issues such as social stratification and egocentric bias.

Kasey Patrick, a senior double major in English and Psychology, produced art pieces featuring three mixed mediums, displaying the time before, during, and after the height of COVID-19 in relation to the social and political outlook of that timeframe.

Gwen Pinger, a junior Apparel and Textile Design major with a minor in Arts and Cultural Management, created a wooden sculpture similar in design to a windchime “with many long strands of string and glass beads that twinkle in the sun.” The beads resemble IV needles in a poignant representation of all the lives lost to COVID-19 in the state of Michigan.

Eric Saroian, a senior Music Composition and Performance major, partnered with Jacob Hoffman and Kyle Sodman, students from Purdue University and the Conservatory College of Music in Cincinnati, to create an original composition for a solo bassoon. Accompanying the piece is an animation that synchronizes to the music and depicts a variety of special effects coming from top of the bassoon, such as lasers, smoke, water, etc. 

Alex Vonhof, a senior Studio Art major, produced a video that illustrates the effects of the breath surrounding the anxiety of the pandemic as well as the physical prevention of catching the disease.

White photo with the words, supporting a creative life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Written by Kim Popiolek