Blue Cross to Host 3 Health Workers’ ArtPrize Entries

Art has become a way for ICU nurse Miranda Kurncz Garcia to cope with the stress that comes with caring for patients who become the sickest with COVID-19. 

The self-taught artist’s tribute to front-line health workers and the story behind her project resulted in people asking her to enter it into ArtPrize. The world-famous, citywide art competition in Grand Rapids runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 3, 2021. The contest will award $450,000 in grants and prizes for artists.  

“I just was inspired by all of my coworkers, who are amazing human beings, that go to work every day and put on such a brave face. [They] go in and out of COVID patients’ rooms all day long every day, putting their lives on the line. This was just my way of giving back to them,” Garcia said.  

The St. Johns resident is one of three health care workers whose pieces will be installed at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan office at the Steketee’s Building, 86 Monroe Center St. NW, in downtown Grand Rapids.  

From vial caps to ArtPrize piece 

Garcia’s piece is titled “The Face of the Frontline, A Tribute to Healthcare Workers.” It’s made of more than a thousand caps from vials of medicines given to patients. The caps were gathered by hospital staff at Owosso Memorial Health Care for the project. Most of the caps are blue, which is the color of the scrubs and masks most employees wear.  

ArtPrize artist Miranda Kurncz Garcia
ArtPrize artist Miranda Kurncz Garcia

“You want to make it actually look like a health care worker but I didn’t have a lot of different colors to work with,” said Garcia. She had a lot of white and blue caps, and smaller amounts of yellow, orange, peach, maroon and turquoise. “It was probably one of the most challenging projects that I’ve done. But it’s also one of the most rewarding projects that I’ve ever done.”  

One coworker was particularly touched by the project because her mother was in the hospital’s ICU with COVID-19 and didn’t recover. 

“She was so honored to be part of it,” Garcia said. “She actually has a pin of my artwork that she wears every day, and she likes to think — which it’s probably true — that some of the caps that I used are from her mother.” 

Conveying pandemic emotions 

Like Garcia, Marie Soc Rodrigo-Carinosa is also a self-taught artist. She has worked in hospitals and reference laboratories as a medical laboratory technologist for nearly 32 years. 

“During the pandemic, my creativity started to creep out once again as I experienced the horror I felt every time I put on my coverall protection to enter the biohazard area of the lab,” shared Rodrigo-Carinosa, who came to the U.S. 21 years ago from the Philippines. “Trapped inside for eight to 10 hours, listening only to the humming sound of the inoculating hood, I constantly prayed that soon all of this will be over.” 

Her ArtPrize entry, “The UNSPOKEN” A Nurse’s Unfeigned Prayer of 2020, is a mixed-media art on canvas that incorporates her DNA on microscope slides and strands of her hair. She describes the piece as being about the emotions she felt during the pandemic, as she learned of friends who died and heard the news about a nurse who took her own life.  

Imagining how that nurse must have felt “taking in all the pain and suffering” of those around her. Rodrigo-Carinosa says the woman was constantly in her thoughts as she worked on her piece. She wondered, “If she could have just prayed, what would she pray? What would she say to God?” 

 Tools of the trade 

Michael Roberts also found inspiration in his workplace. In his ArtPrize entry, Wooden Medical Tools, the artist fashioned the most familiar medical tools into works of art. Using a mix of common and exotic woods, he hand-carved a reflex hammer, syringe, scalpel and stethoscope.   

ArtPrize artist Michael Roberts
ArtPrize artist Michael Roberts

“I wanted to make these tools as accurate as possible to show them the respect they deserved,” said Roberts. As a biomedical engineer at Metro Health University of Michigan Health in Wyoming, his job is to fix medical equipment.  

The wooden stethoscope took more than 27 hours, excluding time spent on his first two failed attempts. He spent 13 hours crafting a syringe with moveable parts after he had scrapped his first effort. Altogether he estimates he invested 100 hours on the four pieces and the three-legged helix-shaped pedestal that holds them. He shows how he made the artwork in videos on his YouTube channel, Roberts Innovations.  

They were created in his woodworking shop, tucked into the side of the garage of his Grand Rapids-area home. Roberts describes his woodworking as an incredibly relaxing hobby. He knew he wanted it displayed at a location with a connection to the medical field. Unfortunately, hospitals that had previously been ArtPrize venues aren’t available this year because of COVID-19-related restrictions.  

“I looked for anything that would be in the medical realm, and when I found the Blue Cross Blue Shield site right downtown, I thought this is so perfect,” Roberts said. “I didn’t contact anyone else because if it wasn’t going be in a medical-related location, there was no point.” 

ArtPrize 2021 will run Sept. 16-Oct. 3 throughout Grand Rapids. 

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