As a recipient of a 2023 CREATE! Micro-Grant, Mackenzie Sheehan-D’Arrigo, a senior Studio Art major, spent this semester creating a sculpture that symbolizes the developing possibilities of younger generations as well as their potential to create change as they take on leadership roles in the workforce.
Offered by MSU’s College of Arts & Letters and facilitated by the Dean’s Arts Advisory Council with support from the MSU Federal Credit Union and departments across the university, the CREATE! Micro-Grant program encourages Michigan State University students to critically engage, through art, with the past, present, or future while offering them the opportunity to explore current events and issues through mediums such as art, dance, film, poetry, and song.
This year, 13 micro-grants were awarded with each winning proposal receiving $500 to fund the proposed projects.
“Everything from the clay to glazes to kilns are very expensive, and it feels as though it will be nearly impossible to get back to my practice after graduation. Opportunities like this to make art for money are a big help.”
Sheehan-D’Arrigo used the funding to buy materials for her sculpture and will invest in materials to use in her practice post-graduation.
“Everything from the clay to glazes to kilns is very expensive, and it feels as though it will be nearly impossible to get back to my practice after graduation,” said Sheehan-D’Arrigo, who will graduate in Spring 2024. “Opportunities like this to make art for money are a big help.”
Sculpture as Symbolism
Sheehan-D’Arrigo’s sculpture, she says, is a symbol of persistence and importance. It features a budding plant walking on its two primary roots while the remaining roots are bundled up and carried by the specimen, which is unidentifiable and abstract to limit categorization and so as to highlight nature’s inherent mystery and liveliness.
This vision of walking while carrying others is representative of the many challenges young adults face as they enter the workforce, such as rapid inflation without increased wages and the anxiety around finding stable and affordable long-term housing.
“Some of us are the first to experience these intersecting challenges,” Sheehan-D’Arrigo said, “and sometimes it feels like we have no one to look to. However, creating allows me to work through my unresolved emotions of an uncertain future.”
Sheehan-D’Arrigo said she would like to display the sculpture outdoors, though she has not determined a specific location yet.
Sources of Inspiration
In creating this work, Sheehan-D’Arrigo says she was inspired by nature, contemporary experiences, and the work of Wangechi Mutu, a contemporary Kenyan artist known for blending gender, race, art history, and personal identity.
“A common theme in her work is empowering and giving a voice back to those who are overlooked and underrepresented,” Sheehan-D’Arrigo said. “She does this, not in a flashy, arrogant way, but instead by gracefully giving space for the experiences to be and to be known. We cannot force people to listen to us, but we can make our presence known and dictate how we want our story to be told.”
“We cannot force people to listen to us, but we can make our presence known and dictate how we want our story to be told.”
Sheehan-D’Arrigo also takes inspiration from her artistic support system, which is made up of her MSU professors and fellow artists, who remind her that there is no “right way” to create art. She says their acceptance of the philosophy that “what is meant to be will be” helps keep her grounded and inspired during the creation process.
Importance of a Creative Outlet
For Sheehan-D’Arrigo, creating art is akin to meditation. She finds that the act of creating allows her to refocus her energy away from her fears and use it constructively, bringing more beauty and connection to her life and the lives of others.
“I feel most centered when I spend time in nature, whether that is exploring, investigating, appreciating, or a combination of these,” she said. “Acute observation of the details around me gives me the opportunity to feel what livens and energizes me the most. I can then translate these elements into my work and develop an understanding of why those things are important to me.”
Sheehan-D’Arrigo says that creative members of her generation have the power to redefine what energizes them and the duty to explore why that is through their art. Ultimately, she says it is a shared responsibility to express political concerns since younger generations are the future and have the power to work together and create change.
After she graduates from MSU, Sheehan-D’Arrigo said she plans on taking a gap year to work and apply for MFA programs.