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Artist Cat Lane set up a workspace in a corner of her Bellingham home. // Photo by Cat Lane.

By Madison Morris

Cat Lane sits in the corner of her bedroom surrounded by her own art as light pours through the window. This is a stark contrast to where she’d normally be practicing her art — on Western’s campus surrounded by other art students.

On March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee implemented the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order which requires all Washington residents to stay home unless pursuing essential services to limit the spread of COVID-19.

This order, originally intended to be in place for two weeks, has already been extended until May 4. Some student artists say they are using this time to engage with their craft.

“I’ve finally had some time to evaluate my writing,” said Ryan Hopkins, a first-year student and undecided major at Western. “I’ve been exploring new poetry styles and reexamining my own style in a way, so I’ve been able to practice some new styles. It’s been therapeutic, in a way.”

Even non-artists can reap the rewards of creating art right now. According to a study conducted by Girija Kaimal, an associate professor in the Creative Arts Therapies Department at Drexel University, just 45 minutes of creative activity can significantly reduce cortisol levels, which relieves stress. In this study, 75% of participants experienced reduced cortisol levels after 45 minutes of unstructured creative time.

“We are in the middle of a collective trauma that is a global health crisis. “We are living it,” said Nicole Ross, a clinical mental health professional and art therapist based in Seattle. “Any part of the creative process allows you to take the right now and start processing and integrating it into your current narrative. If you need to feel positive and you’re really stuck on that idea, then make that! If you need to just sit down with a piece of paper and color it all black because that’s how you’re feeling, then make that!”

Lane, a second-year ceramics major at Western, has been using her time to finish old projects.

“Over the course of the school year, I would try to start these art projects outside of my art classes for school,” she said. “Those just never got finished. So they’ve all been sitting in the corner of my room, but now there’s just a lot more time to do them. I’ve been working on a little papier mâché chicken!"

Ross said there’s a reason art can be so valuable in times of uncertainty.

“Creative processes are our first language as children,” she said. “Art, dance, movement, music: When you see a toddler try to communicate, it’s using those things. For our brains, the ability to not have to translate what we’re feeling into words is really important.”


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