GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The year 2020 marked not only the start of a global pandemic, but also a time when calls resounded for social justice.

That’s what inspired Elizabeth Schondelmayer’s ArtPrize entry, “Not a Threat.”

“I knew getting into ArtPrize that I wanted to try to do something that’s kind of a political statement,” said Schondelmayer, who studied political science in college and now is a research writer at a Michigan university.

An undated courtesy photo of Elizabeth Schondelmayer.

A social media post highlighting the way people of color were perceived by others caught Schondelmayer’s attention. She said the post discussed how Asian people were viewed after COVID-19 was first identified in China and why Black Americans were often the victims of police brutality. 

Schondelmayer decided to challenge those perceptions through art.

“We saw a lot of xenophobia and racism against certain groups in the U.S.,” she said. “I just kind of wanted to challenge that and just make people realize that nobody’s inherently a threat and by treating people that way, we’re actually putting them in danger.”

Not a Threat” is a piece of digital art, which Schondelmayer described as “a completely different way of showing creativity.”

“…Sketching or painting, I used to do those things a lot, but I could never quite find the medium that worked for me. And then I started doing digital stuff and I was like, ‘Wow, this is so much more fun,’” Schondelmayer said.

She learned that the possibilities in digital art were “endless.”

“You can work with any medium virtually that you could in real life and you can get a lot of cool effects that you just can’t really do in real life, so I just really like it,” Schondelmayer said.

Schondelmayer, who has enjoyed art since she was a child, is a first-time ArtPrize participant.

“Being in the pandemic, I just wanted to try new things, so I just started doing digital art and I really liked it. And I always thought ArtPrize was super cool, so I was like, ‘I’m going to go for it,'” she said.

Her ArtPrize entry uses a monochrome color scheme. Her initial idea of using black and gray with the words “not a threat” in red so they would stand out changed in her final product.

“Not a Threat,” a digital entry by Elizabeth Schondelmayer for ArtPrize 2021.

“I kind of thought it would be cool to try it in blue because then you would kind of have the American flag and then it would kind of be a statement in and of itself. And so it just kind of started with me sketching out the faces, kind of deciding on the groups that I wanted to represent and then diving in with sketching it out, putting down the base colors, creating the finished product,” Schondelmayer said.

She said taking the leap to enter Artprize was big for her personally.

“It’s kind of a way to share a cause that I really care about with the community that I love. Going to ArtPrize as a little kid, I was always so excited and so inspired by all these artists. So for me, it’s kind of just a personal achievement,” Schondelmayer said.

“Not a Threat” is being hosted at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation at 1530 Madison Ave. — a fitting location as the organizations inside that building work to create opportunities to further develop the community.

“They are just awesome in the work that they do. So being able to kind of share this little cause with them was really, really awesome as well,” Schondelmayer said.

“Not a Threat,” a digital entry by Elizabeth Schondelmayer for ArtPrize 2021, hangs at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation. (Sept. 15, 2021)

A QR code next to the art piece links to a sticker version that can be purchased. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to Black Lives Matter, the Lansing Refugee Development Center and South Asian Americans Leading Together. Stickers can also be purchased on the piece’s Redbubble page.

Schondelmayer hopes to get people thinking more about the biases they have regarding others and to challenge them.

“All of us do it. It’s more than just a political one side versus the other. We all tend to make assumptions,” she said. “It’s just a way to kind of challenge people’s assumptions and make people think twice about applying labels to people before they even know them or their situation or their life story.”