Arts Initiative opens new virtual exhibit

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022

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By Alex Guerrero

With the onset of COVID-19, a lot of nonprofits had to pivot their day-to-day operations and go online. One of those was the Freeborn County Arts Initiative, which is having its virtual exhibit, Expressions of Love, from Feb. 10 to April 8.

“The show is the first of its kind for the Freeborn County Arts Initiative,” said Elisha Marin, executive director of the Freeborn County Arts Initiative and designer for the virtual exhibit. It will also be new to residents in the area.

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Because it’s a completely virtual show and uses artificial intelligence, Marin described the exhibit as being almost like a video game.

There are two reasons for the virtual exhibit. The first was that by having it virtually, Marin wanted to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“The pandemic … hit art organizations particularly hard,” he said. “Many had to shutter their doors.”

In 2020 the organization decided to do virtual programming, and so besides the gallery everything went online. Those virtual programs included mic nights, virtual documentary screenings and have included people from all over the country. 

The second reason was that a virtual exhibit would get more people to see the show.

To the second point, he said the night the exhibit opened, viewers from five different countries attended, and there were so many people attending, the website was temporarily bogged down.

“Online, virtual exhibitions have really lowered the barrier of entry for people who want to come and be a part of the show,” he said.

So for the last year, Marin has pursued a hybrid approach to the gallery, having both gallery and online exhibits. That approach has helped the gallery pivot to entirely online programming when COVID-19 cases increased. 

Setting up a virtual exhibit took roughly two months from the call to artists to setting things up.

According to Marin, putting the exhibit together was similar to designing a physical one and included having a curator, three jurists and a selection process.

“When building a virtual reality show, you walk through just like a participant, and in virtual reality you have a piece of art work and hang it exactly where you want it on the wall,” he said.

The gallery has been doing virtual programming for almost two years, something that was important to him. He felt hybrid and virtual programming encouraged participation among viewers as well as artists.

Artists in the exhibit include Inkpa Mani, an indigenous artist from Wheaton, and Amber Hansen, an art professor and muralist.

“It’s a really diverse group of artists, and the artwork itself is really diverse,” he said. “We have photography, we have painting, several types of fiber art, a collage. So it’s a pretty interesting show.”  

To see the exhibit, guests log into a website,, and view the show similarly to how they would at a physical gallery.

And because Freeborn County Arts Initiative is a working-artists gallery, everything in the virtual show is for sale.