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Bailee Higgins hopes her public art project will help promote an important public health measure while connecting people in the community.
I Wear A Mask For Sydney Mines is a series of digital portraits of people who live or work in Sydney Mines wearing masks, which are designed to reflect their personalities. Included with each portrait is a comment from the subject about why they wear a face mask or a little about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's a project that's meant to bring people together since we can't get physically together," said Higgins, who is in the art education program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax.
"And it's a project that can encourage people to wear a face mask as a way to help protect everyone during the pandemic, which I think is an important message."
Created for a public art class Higgins is taking at NSCAD University, the Sydney Mines native received a Rising Youth grant so she could continue the project until March 1.
During the last week of February, she is planning a virtual livestreaming show of all the portraits she's completed to this point. But the artist, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., plans to continue doing portraits until the end of the pandemic.
"I want to get as many people as possible involved so we can get as many people's experiences included," she said.
One participant who is a COVID-19 survivor living off-island wrote a statement that Higgins calls "powerful."
In it, the woman said her health will never be the same again and that she wants to live in a world where people care about protecting people around them.
"Our cases have been pretty low here. So hearing from someone who has had it and is still suffering from the lasting effects is really powerful," Higgins said.
Alex Cormier saw Higgins's Facebook post looking for subjects for the I Wear A Mask series and the mother of two said she wanted to participate in the project because protecting others is a message that hits close to home.
"It's affected our family directly, the COVID pandemic. My mother had COVID and now she suffers long-term effects from COVID. Her lungs are permanently damaged," Cormier said about her decision to be a model in the series.
"If by helping promote the message that face masks work, if we can protect anyone else's mother or grandmother or father or someone else in the community by wearing masks, then we should do what we can to get that message across."
Each digital portrait takes about an hour and a half to complete and is done on an iPad with a special pen which allows the artist to draw right on the screen.
To date, Higgins has completed 40 portraits and hopes to finish at least 100 by the time the pandemic is over.
Anyone interested in being a model in the I Wear A Mask For Sydney Mines series can contact Higgins by email at [email protected] or through Facebook messenger on the project page..
Nicole Sullivan is an education, enterprise and diversity reporter for the Cape Breton Post.