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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

#3YearsIn3Lines at Illinois Art Station captures youth pandemic experiences through art

White gallery walls are lined with a single row of artworks at eye level, big and small pieces placed every-other-one.
Lauren Warnecke
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WGLT
The main gallery at Illinois Art Station features #3YearsIn3Lines, a collaborative, community-sourced project in partnership with the statewide Resiliency Collective.

Illinois Art Station partnered with a consortium of statewide organizations called The Resiliency Collective for a new exhibit, running May 6 – June 17. Using the hashtag #3YearsIn3Lines, the community-sourced gallery is an artistic reflection on the pandemic, now three years removed from its peak.

Executive Director Hannah Johnson secured Illinois Art Station’s place in the consortium as the only exclusively downstate organization. Chicago-based Casa Michoacán and the West Chicago City Museum are partner sites; IAS’s participation aims to specifically capture how youth experienced and have processed the pandemic.

“We’re utilizing this opportunity in partnership with the Resiliency Collective to think about: where are we now, where have we been and where are we going,” Johnson said.

An artwork in three lines shows computers at desks with a single chair on top and abstract squiggly lines in the second and third tiers.
Lauren Warnecke
/
WGLT
A submission to the #3YearsIn3Lines gallery demonstrating past, present and future.

To that end, each piece—which can be explored through visual art or the written word—is laid out in three lines, like a triptych, with many young artists representing past, present and future in their projects. #3YearsIn3Lines builds on McLean County Museum of History’s past archival projects: #12MonthsIn6Words in 2021 and COVID-19: The McLean County Experience in 2020. Illinois Art Station will continue to add new submissions to the gallery through May 31, document each work, then hand them to the history museum in June to add to its collection.

Johnson said youth perceive the pandemic differently depending on age.

“Older elementary students, junior high and high schoolers—they have this linear grasp on time,” said Johnson. “They know where they were in 2020 and they can reflect back on how that impacted their way of life.”

In workshopping the #3YearsIn3Lines project with younger artists ages 5-7, art educators found the height of the pandemic forms their earliest memories.

“This is their lived experience,” Johnson said. “Their known memories are a COVID and post-COVID world. It’s been more difficult for them to see their peers who are slightly older having this awareness of these two worlds, where they only know one.”

The gallery is intentionally on view in May, commemorating Mental Health Awareness Month. While folks are welcome to submit artworks to the project they create on their own, experts from Creative Healing Art Therapy, Just Words Consulting Group, LLC, and the Department of Psychology at Illinois State University will be on hand at two workshops guiding young artists through the artmaking process.

Johnson has noticed that youth have a strong desire to build off their pandemic experiences to reflect on themselves, and also to ignite social change.

“To me, [mental health] has a direct relationship to this idea of a racial and social reckoning,” she said, “and realizing that identity is central to the way that we operate. If we don’t take ownership over our own identities, it becomes weaponized. When we’re looking at the works of some of our older young artists, you see that. You see evidence of community. You see evidence of isolation. And there’s a relationship between those two. In these past three years, we’ve all had to unpack: What it means to be alone? What does it mean to be together? What is the definition of togetherness when we’re encouraged to be isolated?”

#3YearsIn3Lines is on view at Illinois Art Station, 101 E. Vernon Ave., beginning May 6, with gallery hours on Saturdays from 10-2 and whenever the center is open. Sunday’s in-person workshop takes place from 1-4:30 p.m. A virtual option of the workshop will take place on May 18. Register for either free workshop at Illinoisartstation.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.