UI student artists create art to cope with COVID-19

As the pandemic drags on, student artists are leaning into their craft to help power through unstable times. Their work, which ranges from digital art, music, and journaling, helps them get through many different challenges during 2020.

Art mady by Madison Bartlett

Art mady by Madison Bartlett

Dani Hopkins, Arts Reporter


It is no secret that many artists battle their own demons while producing fantastic art. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic is an added stress.

Several artists at the University of Iowa have turned to their craft now more than ever to cope to additional hardships.

Madison Bartlett, a UI double major in art and social work, said she has been severely impacted because of COVID-19. Not only has she felt the pandemic’s effects, but her family has as well. This caused Bartlett to rely on art to get her through a tough time and to help financially sustain herself.

Bartlett has been taking commissions for digital and traditional art, mainly on Twitter, for support. These pieces range from celebrity drawings to personal portraits that people submit.

Working as a resident assistant during the school year takes up some of her time, but she is still making art to help herself.

“Art is kind of therapy in a way,” Bartlett said. “When I am seeing what I’m making it can help me reflect on myself like if I’m drawing something in a violent and angry way then I ask myself, ‘Why am I angry?’ So then, let’s check in on that.”

Art made by Madison Bartlett

Despite the coronavirus invading her life — and the whole world — Bartlett is still exploring other mediums as much as she can. The artist has branched out with ceramic pieces as well as exploring the realms of digital and traditional illustration.

Austin Olberding, a UI pre-med student and musician, was finishing out his freshman year when the outbreak first hit Iowa City. As students were sent home, the change gave him the chance to reignite his passion for music.

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“When we were sent back at the end last year, I hadn’t touched a drum set in over a year,” Olberding said. “It was the only time that I had got to since college. It built that passion back up. I had forgotten about my roots. It really gave me the chance to see how bad I had gotten and to work on it.”

He added that he loves to play in public venues such as church, but with everything closed down, he’s had to adapt to playing different instruments.

Due to the closures, the drummer learned to play the piano. Olberding also used his time to post music on his Snapchat stories for others to enjoy.

Shannon McNeal, a UI double major in Spanish and Chinese, said that even though she’s been struggling during the pandemic, she’s trying to find things to do to keep herself entertained. This desire for entertainment brought forth a new love for arts, crafts, and interior design, which helped her create spaces that are personal to her.

Once school went online, McNeal returned home and decided to redo her bedroom. From a dark and dreary space, as she described it, the fledgling artist created a bright and productive area to continue her all-online education.

“I have always loved interior design and it has helped me and my mom to start creating wooden signs to add to people’s own spaces,” McNeal said.

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