When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, graduate student Anna Orletski suddenly found herself with a lot of free time. Instead of letting it go to waste, Orletski decided to tap into her creative side and, with partner Sidd Finch, created the book “Change of Plans,” which documents and highlights Detroit artists and creatives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Initially when COVID hit, my partner and I were at a loss of what to do with ourselves,” said Orleski, who is in the graduate Addiction Counseling program at University of Detroit Mercy. “For the first time in years, we had nothing to do and nowhere to be. We’re both creative people; my partner is a professional photographer and I’m focusing on using art therapy in practice. So, we decided just to cope with the pandemic the best way we knew how and that was to create.”
Finch started taking photos in the community, while Orletski took a different approach.
“I chose to practice the things I didn’t have much time for previously, which is painting, printmaking and illustrating,” Orletski said. “After a couple of weeks, I had filled an entire notebook with illustrations and doodles. We hadn’t planned to do anything with the photos and illustrations we created, but once we realized how many artists in Detroit were feeling similarly lost, we were determined to make some meaning out of this time. That’s when we decided to create the photo/coloring book. We wanted to create a tribute to the shared experiences of our peers as well as emphasize the necessity of creating for self-care.”
The book combines Orletski’s illustrations and Finch’s photography and features more than 80 different creatives, including muralists, musicians, DJs, producers and painters from Detroit and the surrounding areas.
“Each page features a different artist and a black and white illustration for coloring,” Orletski said. “The goal behind the book was to create a sort of tribute to this unprecedented moment. It serves as a piece to elicit reflection on what ‘Change of Plans’ have occurred. Since the photoshoots began early April and continued through late June, the change in the seasons can be noted and gives a frame of reference of the time that has passed since COVID began.”
Orletski said the response to the book was great and is something she was really proud of creating.
“I love that the book has turned into a coloring book,” Orletski said. “It’s so much more than just something to throw on a coffee table. With each purchase of a book comes a pack of crayons. I had never imagined my illustrations being used in this way, but that just goes along with the theme change of plans.”
The positive response to the book led to Orletski and her partner being connected with the art gallery Playground Detroit, and turning the work in the book into an exhibit.
“Overall, the response has been positive,” Orletski said of the exhibit. “There were some of our friends who were concerned about the logistics of having an event indoors because of COVID, but were surprised to see how well we’ve been handling it. Everyone is required to wear a mask at all times, only 10 people are allowed in at a time and the gallery is one-way only, meaning you come in the front door and leave through the backdoor. The space is also pretty open so it allows for at least six feet between individuals coming to see the exhibit.”
The exhibit also allowed Orletski to include some extra material that didn’t make it into the book.
“Along the way, we had asked each individual in the project to submit a written response to what their ‘Change of Plans’ have been,” Orletski said. “I took each submission and typed it up on my typewriter and displayed them on the portable walls in the gallery. Reading through them all really showed me how similar all our experiences were while staying apart. The common themes of cancelled plans, disappointments, anxiousness and being stuck rings true for more than just the participants, but also anyone who views the exhibit.”
Orletski considers herself a very proud Detroiter and loves being able to attend school in the city.
“I love the Detroit Mercy community,” Orletski said. “I love the people I’ve met here. They are some of my closest friends. I also like that there is flexibility and room to grow, and what I mean by that is If you want to do something, like start a club or association, you can. I wanted to renew the Graduate Counseling Association, so I did. There are so many opportunities if you just take advantage of them.”
Orletski is keeping her options open after graduation, but says she will likely pursue her Ph.D. and she’s also invested in doing research and art therapy, all things she feels Detroit Mercy has put her on the right path to doing.
“The professors know the ins and outs of the mental health field and have helped me in my three years to navigate the waters,” Orletski said. “They push you to find your areas of interest and then support you to learn as much as you can about that. I never thought my love of creativity and art would mesh with my career, but they opened that possibility and encouraged it.”
She starts an internship in September at Harbor Oaks Psychiatric Hospital, where they use art therapy in group sessions.
“I couldn’t have made that connection without Detroit Mercy,” she said.
The initial dates of the Change of Plans exhibit recently wrapped up, but the book is available for purchase on Playground Detroit’s website. Prints of the photos and illustrations are also available.