"Your Story" exhibit shares personal, local view of the pandemic

As a registered nurse in the intensive care COVID-19 unit at Springfield Regional Medical Center, the pandemic has affected Traci Ricketts mentally, physically and emotionally. Her blood boils when she hears someone say the coronavirus is a farce.

“You know what? You come and look at what I’ve experienced for so many months,” she says.

A public art exhibit in Downtown Springfield this month aims to allow visitors to do just that. "Your Story," an outdoor exhibit by photographer, artist and Springfield native Ty Fischer, spotlights 49 community leaders, front-line workers and everyday citizens and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them.

Each of the 49 participants wrote an essay about their experiences and were then asked to pick 12 to 15 words that were the most impactful, Fischer says. He then recreated a black-and-white portrait of each person with a facemask on, using those meaningful words.

The project began more than a year ago, with a nightmare he had in August 2020. In it, he watched a woman drowning in what felt like water but was actually words.

“I was watching her try to fight to the surface,” he says. “Somehow that translated into this.”

In a year filled with so much misinformation, Fischer says it seemed that people weren’t listening to each other’s stories.

“I felt I could put something together that was truly from a first-person perspective that couldn’t be altered or manipulated,” says Fischer, who was born and raised in Springfield.

The exhibit will be displayed throughout October from Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company, along Fountain Avenue to COhatch - in the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area - and many Downtown businesses will have information cards with maps for the exhibit, Fischer says. The intent was to create an immersive experience with a strong black-and-white presence downtown.

Photos of each participant will be displayed on pole banners, and additional photos of varying sizes, along with many of the essays, can be seen throughout the exhibit area. The sizes of the photos range from 18 inches by 36 inches on the poles, to 25 feet tall.

The participants had some overlap in the meaningful words they used, including “fear,” “panic” and “frustration,” Fischer says. But they also used words like “grateful” and “thankful.”

“Some things seemed tough, but there was some very inspiring overlap as well,” he says.

Alejandro Valdez is featured in the exhibit and says he hopes that people who view it learn that good things can happen even during times of trial if you strive and do the right thing.

“This is about how people survived the pandemic,” says Valdez, who is a neighbor of Fischer’s in the Ridgewood neighborhood.

Valdez owns several Springfield businesses, and all were affected during the pandemic.

Golden Peso Tattoo, at 1588 E. Main St., was forced to shut down for several weeks. He was also preparing to open Beards & Beaus men’s grooming salon, 601 W. North St., when the pandemic hit. It finally opened earlier this year.

His property management company held off on purchasing another property when COVID-19 hit the news.

“It cost us one investment, but it probably saved us our business,” says Valdez, who relied on his savings and says he was fortunate that his tenants were able to pay their rent.

Fischer says he aimed to tell the stories of a wide variety of local residents, including government officials, business leaders and those exposed to the virus every day. “Your Story” enables visitors to understand what was going on in their lives and through their minds.

“I wanted to shine a light on all perspectives of our community,” he says.

He hopes the exhibit will open viewers’ minds, create conversations and help people understand why some of the participants – including elected officials – reacted the way they did.

The exhibit was funded with about $15,000 in donations, Fischer says, including three anonymous donations that made up half of that total, with the remaining half coming from a fundraiser on the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform. “Your Story” will be archived with the Clark County Historical Society, and coffee table books featuring the exhibit also can be purchased online.

Ricketts knows that everyone was impacted by the pandemic, but she participated in the project to show others just how much healthcare workers and hospitals were affected.

“The mental part was just atrocious,” says Ricketts, of the Northridge neighborhood.

Many of the patients were elderly and had other health issues, but a lot were young, with children and grandchildren at home. She would see patients speak to family over the phone because no visitors were allowed. At one point, the COVID unit was aiding both a husband and wife at the same time. There were also two sisters.

But there wasn’t always a happy ending.

An exhibit like “Your Story” shows local residents that the pandemic that is happening in the news elsewhere is also affecting people in our very own neighborhood, she says. It’s personal.

“When you go around and see what’s happened in our county and our city, it brings it all closer to home,” Ricketts says.

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.