Finding Inspiration in a Pandemic

Sep 1, 2020

Guest Blog By Wendy McGrath

I just finished teaching EKPHRASIS: WRITING ABOUT ART–an online course through the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension. When I agreed to teach the course, I had no reason to imagine I would  deliver it in any other way than a traditional classroom setting (you remember, the kind where it’s in real-time, in real-life, real-in-person interaction). In March, the world changed. I was going to deliver this course online and so I prepped; participating in several online workshops, readings, and classes. At first login, it appeared as if my world was shrinking to the size of a frame within a computer screen. But, at the same time, I felt my life was expanding, even as I just…stayed…home. I participated in a Zine workshop delivered from New York City. I tuned into a Royal Society of Literature panel on Dalloway Day. I tuned in to panels and workshops during a week-long literary festival. Without leaving my house, I had actually ‘travelled’ virtually to NYC; London, England; and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.   

Now, my challenge was to bring a world of art and writing to students in their homes.

I had students scattered, physically, across the country. But when all of us entered our ZOOM meeting, it was as if each of our faces was framed as part of a virtual portrait exhibition. At the moment, public art galleries were closed so this ZOOM class was, metaphorically, as close to visiting a traditional real-world gallery as we might get while social distancing in our homes.   

My plan; however, was to inspire students to look for art outside a traditional gallery setting which, for some, can be an intimidating barrier because of class, socio-economic status, race, or accessibility requirements. Students at home or within their neighbourhoods could look for inspiration in objects they liked and disliked, as well as films, television, street art, and graffiti. The writing students produced was terrific—they had looked around them with fresh eyes. Their work reflected a broad definition of ekphrasis and, most significantly, reflected the rich potential for inspiration that exists inside us, inside our home, and in our immediate neighbourhoods.

In this strange time inspiration can be found in the small-framed worlds that contain the pictures of our lives.  


Wendy McGrath is a Métis writer and artist living in amiskwacîwâskahikan (so called Edmonton) on Treaty 6 Territory.  Her most recent novel Broke City is the final book in her Santa Rosa Trilogy. She recently completed Paso doble a collaborative manuscript of poems inspired by the photography of Danny Miles–drummer for July Talk and Tongue Helmet. She works in multiple genres.