Arts & Humanities

Unmasking Creativity Highlights Utah Youths' Response to the Pandemic through Art

By Phillip Brown |

Three examples of transformed masks by Cache Valley middle and high school students Zyanya S, Jocelyn K. and Charlie K.

A new exhibition at Utah State University’s Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA), Unmasking Creativity: Giving a Voice to Utah Youth, opens Saturday, Nov. 14, and features artistic expressions and written experiences by middle and high school students in response to the current pandemic.

NEHMA gave local teachers face masks for their students to transform in a way that reflected their thoughts and emotions during this period. The students were also invited to take self-portraits wearing the masks and to write short statements about why they transformed the masks the way they did and what impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on their lives and their families.

Over 80 students from five local schools in Cache County participated. Their masks, portraits and words show a diverse range of responses from heartbreak to humor.

“This exhibition shows that we can express ourselves with face masks in the same way we do with our clothing and accessories,” said Katie Lee-Koven, executive director and chief curator at NEHMA. “And just as important, we wanted to give youth a creative outlet to process, think and even rethink how they feel about this year and how the pandemic has changed our lives.”

Awards and cash prizes will be given to several winning entries. The public is invited to see all the masks and find some inspiration to make a mask of their own at NEHMA’s Community Art Day Saturday, Nov. 14.

As a safety precaution, NEHMA is limiting the total number of visitors to 25 people at a time and requires reservations. Please visit NEHMA’s website to make a reservation for a one-hour time slot in advance. The exhibition will be on view through December 19.

The project is inspired by photographer J.P. Spicer-Escalante’s series, The Love in the Time of Coronavirus Project, that featured portraits of families in Cache Valley wearing masks during the stay-at-home order in June and documented how people have relied on important relationship in their lives during this time. Unmasking Creativity replaces Spicer-Escalante’s project in the museum’s Community Response Space, a part of the ongoing, pandemic-inspired exhibition The Day After Tomorrow: Art in Response to Turmoil and Hope (on view July 1– December 19).

Also currently on view at NEHMA are the exhibitions Women, Surrealism, and Abstraction (August 25, 2020–July 31, 2021) and African American Art, Social Justice, and Identity: Works by Black Artists from the NEHMA Collection (August 25–December 19).

Visiting the museum is free of charge. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Free visitor parking is offered in the lot behind the Russell/Wanlass Performance Hall. For public transportation, ride the Cache Valley Transit routes 1, 4 or the green or blue Loop and get off at the Fine Arts stop.

The project has received funding from Utah Humanities. Utah Humanities empowers Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities. The project is also supported in part by Utah Arts & Museums, with funding from the State of Utah.


Phillip Brown
Public Relations Specialist
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art


Phillip Brown
Public Relations Specialist
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art


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