UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 15 Winter 21 Library
Deane V Bowers with the completed Together While Apart Project
Alumni Spotlight

Together While Apart Art Project

If there was one positive takeaway from the challenging times we have all faced during the pandemic, it is that, in the end, art is a refuge and a healing force. UVA alumna and talented artist Deane V Bowers proved that and then some with an innovative project that brought together artists from around the country to collaborate on a work of art that both helped them with the kinds of struggles we all faced and allowed them to spread joy and happiness to others. 

The Together While Apart Art Project began when Bowers put out an open call on social media and reached out to a network of friends and family. As an artist who works predominantly with repurposed items, it was only fitting that she first looked around her house to find an abundance of recycled shipping boxes and chose to build the project around them. “I sent each artist several 6x6 pieces of cut cardboard with one simple instruction,” Bowers said. “Think outside the box! My goal was that, through the creative process, each artist would find an outlet for their feelings, and eventually these emotions would transform into joy.” 

In the end, 20 participants from 8 states contributed pieces to the project. Some were artists, and some were not. The group spanned a wide range of ages and came from many diverse backgrounds. 

Together While Apart Project

“There was no right or wrong way to decorate the square,” Bowers said. “My only request was that each square reflect its creator’s emotions at the time: the joy, the heartbreak, or any other significant feeling brought forth by this delicate time in history.” 

The artists:

Deane Bowers (Seabrook Island, South Carolina)
Liz Brent (Chicago)
Sandy Buffie (Washington)
Nikki Contini (San Rafael, California)
Will Cooke with Jennifer Mildonian and Marcelle VanYahres (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Lynette Driver (Brevard, North Carolina)
Celie Gehring (Richmond, Virginia)
Lynn Karegeannes (Asheville, North Carolina)
Cathy Kleiman (Charleston)
Dayo Johnson (Nashville)
Amy Lauria (Painesville, Ohio)
Rachel McLaughlin (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Debbie Pompano (Hanover, Virginia)
Rebecca Potts (Los Angeles)
Frankie Slaughter (Richmond, Virginia)
Jim Weaver (Florence, Alabama)
Cindy Webb (Statesville, North Carolina)

The participants were given three months to create their pieces. Bowers used this time and the process to build a community among the artists, fostering relationships through the work and the process of making it. “I gave each person a self-addressed stamped envelope and assigned each one a pen pal. I hoped that through individual connections taking root, our group would grow together. I also sent regular emails out to the group with inspirational quotes from leaders and musicians to provoke thoughtful reflection, stimulate imaginations, and most of all, to bring the group together.” 

Proof of the project’s success flowed in as the pieces came back to Bowers. “I was repeatedly amazed by the imagination, talent, and effort that each artist put forth in their cardboard,” she said. “The result was so much more than I could ever imagine. The creative energy of the group was palpable, and our pieces seem to flow together with beautiful synergy.” 

Bowers remains amazed that what began as discarded boxes stacked in her garage were transformed into such remarkable and vibrant work. “At the beginning of this endeavor, I had no clear vision of what the final piece would look like. However, I knew that the world needed this group’s creative gifts. I also knew that the participants needed to share their gifts in order to process the current situation our world was in. What emerged was an incredible artistic collage of many beautiful souls who poured themselves into their work. The dynamic personalities and talents are alive and highlighted in the final piece, which tells a beautiful story about resilience, connection, and hope during a pandemic that none of us could have imagined a few years ago.” 

Now that the work is done, Bowers is looking toward the next step of the process: finding this magical work a home. “My wish is that wherever it is displayed, that it inspires love, warmth, empowerment, and joy: the emotions we all felt while creating our individual squares. I hope that when people see our large collaboration, they remember that our collective strength comes when we show love for one another, and that when we connect, we can work together for the common good.” 

Though the piece will indeed find a new home, the entire experience around it will not soon leave Bowers. “I will forever carry a piece of it in my heart,” she said. “I will always remember the importance of being together while apart. Because together, even while apart, we can do great things.” 

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