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Makers Respond: Jane Prophet and Rebekah Modrak Launch Artists and Allies

While a lot has changed at the University of Michigan this spring in response to COVID-19, our individual faculty’s commitment to justice, equity, and access remains firmly intact.

Members of the Stamps School community have been independently hard at work using their expertise as makers, materials experts, organizers, and creative strategists to address the pandemic as it plays out here in Michigan, in particular, by partnering with Detroit and international teammates to respond to the health disparities experienced by residents and healthcare workers in Detroit.

Jane Prophet, Associate Dean for Research, Creative Work, and Strategic Initiatives at Stamps, and Professor Rebekah Modrak teamed up with Professor Silvia Lindtner from the School of Information and community-based Detroit artist Halima Cassells this month to organize “Artists and Allies,” a group of artists, designers, and makers who’ve banded together to procure and create N95 masks, gowns, sewn masks, and face shields for Detroit’s front-line workers and hospitals.


“Artists and designers have partnerships with trusted materials suppliers, rapid design and testing, 3D printing, and professional-grade sewing equipment,” Prophet said. “It’s time to use those relationships differently to address the problem at hand.”

Artists and Allies formed as an alliance of Prophet's, Modrak’s, Lindtner’s, and Cassells’ professional networks based in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Hong Kong, and China. The group has now expanded to welcome newcomers interested in actively addressing the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Detroit hospitals.

The group is currently fundraising, accepting donated PPE, and distributing PPE as it arrives from China, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. People interested in learning more about this effort to aid healthcare workers can do so via the group’s Facebook page.

Prior to organizing Artists and Allies, Prophet and Lindtner, who have both worked extensively in Hong Kong and China, ordered 700 N95 and KN95 masks to test their supply chains. “There have been so many international shipping disruptions,” Prophet said. “But through some active troubleshooting by our China-based colleagues with our shipping vendors, masks, gowns, and gloves are now en route to Michigan.”

In addition to the masks, gowns and gloves, a Hong Kong-based Artists and Allies member has successfully quality tested a 3D printed face shield armature and 1,000 are being manufactured right now. The armature is based on a popular Swedish design, but has been augmented to print in a much higher quality filament (high quality SLA resin) to last longer and withstand multiple disinfecting cycles. The design also accommodates a disposable transparent plastic shield that can be thrown away when it becomes scratched from use and a new piece fitted with ease.

On April 11th, Artists and Allies delivered the initial shipments of N95 masks to Detroit-based hospitals, including Ascension St. John Hospital, and DMC’s Sinai-Grace, Receiving and Harper Hospitals. This coming week, they’ll deliver 500 face shields made by Ann Arbor’s Operation Face Shield and dozens of sewn masks, made by Detroit fiber artists Stephanie Dickey and Sheila M. Palmer. Shipments of isolation gowns and more N95 masks are on route from China to healthcare workers at these hospitals, as well as nursing homes, focusing on those in SE Detroit who are seeing the most cases and have the greatest current need.

Modrak notes that daily consultations with Cassells, operating directors at the hospitals, and partners Aliyah Small and Selena Dallas, Detroit-based nurses who work 12-hour shifts caring for COVID-19 patients, have been integral in understanding equipment shortages and medical workers’ needs.

“Healthcare workers like Small and Dallas are heroes, working 12-hour shifts in very challenging conditions, without ideal protections,” Modrak said.

CDC data shows at least 9,000 U.S. healthcare workers are sick with COVID-19. As NPR noted on April 15th 2020, “Local data reveals more alarming rates of infection. [...] In Detroit, more than 700 employees of the Henry Ford Health System (which has more than 30,000 employees in total) tested positive.”

“The pandemic has made me more aware of the network of people who spring to life to fill in the gaps where governmental and institutional leadership are failing us,” says Modrak, whose work is based in institutional critique.

The longview response warrants examining these structures and Cassells advocates for more governmental oversight and accountability: “Here in Detroit we are not just battling Covid-19, we are battling the generational effects of systemic racism that continue to put our loved ones at elevated risk and vulnerability- not only from the virus but also inadequate preventative measures and treatment.”

Learn more about Artists and Allies.

Are you a member of the Stamps community — faculty, staff, student, or alum — who is working to address the pandemic? Send us your story through the Stamps News Form and include the phrase “MAKERS RESPOND” in the headline.