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In following with the recommendations of healthcare professionals, the University of Iowa moved all of their classes online for the rest of the semester and made the tough decision to cancel all events, including MFA thesis exhibitions. This decision came just days before I was planning to install my show, including this project I have been working on for the last six months. Like so many other things during this time, it was hard news to hear, even if I truly supported the University in their decision. 


However, community found a way to rise above the challenging circumstances. Through the generosity of a community member, I found an alternative location to install the exhibition FORTRESS. The exhibition existed in a historically preserved octagonal barn that was built in 1883. It’s a huge difference than a gallery space, but there have been some truly beautiful discoveries that have come about during this shift. 

While in the early stages of this project, I imagined visitors in the space engaging with the installation, crawling through the tunnel and exploring the accumulation of materials. All of that has change in the last few weeks, but in some ways this project now embodies the community I am experiencing while social distancing. There is a quietness in the space, a slowness of time, but still there are these individual markers for so many people who have and are continuing to support me. It is all different now, but it brings me hope in ways I could not have expected. I am so grateful to have this monumental object to remind me of the support, comfort and care I have in community. 

In consideration for current social distancing practices, the show is available for digital viewing on the page FORTRESS.

For the project Covered by Community, I will be partnering with a local organization in Iowa City called Houses into Homes. Houses into Homes is a charitable organization that focuses on creating community:

“Houses into Homes provides beds, furniture, and household items for families and individuals who are exiting homelessness, domestic violence, and other crisis situations, using donated and gently used items.”


For my MFA  thesis show I will be creating an art piece that will embody the collective communities that are essential for existence. The project will be an installation that functions as an interactive sculpture comprised of blankets. Viewers will be able to engage with a mound of blankets, burrowing beneath, holding, touching, and experiencing the history embedded in each of these objects. An interest in my work recently has explored how individual parts come together to create a larger whole. This is community. We are all part of something larger than ourselves. The gesture of a blanket holds so much – warmth, comfort, care, healing, growth, and rest.


What better way to make this sculpture a reality than by inviting individuals to participate materially, to gather community through the simple but profound object that is a blanket.


I am asking for individuals to donate blankets to use in this project. There are four ways to participate:

1. You can donate blankets that you no longer need and would like to see incorporated into something bigger than their basic parts.

2. You can also contribute with “borrowed blankets”, items that you are willing to contribute for the duration of the exhibition, but that will be returned to you after the show is deinstalled. After all, community allows for this action of exchange – borrowing strength, depending upon one another, even if it is only for a short time.

3. You can purchase or make blankets specifically for this project.

4. You can make a monetary donation that will be used to purchase blankets locally in Iowa City.


Community often cycles through the motions of collecting and dispersing. As individuals, we flow between different communities that are often not stagnant but living and breathing. My partnership with the organization Houses into Homes was chosen specifically with their mission in mind. Houses into Homes aims to support families and individuals through community in times of transition.


Donated blankets can be any material, size, color, shape, or pattern. Houses into Homes and I simply ask that all blankets be:

  • gently used or new

  • clean and free of rips, stains

I will be cataloguing each blanket received and notating the contribution from each individual. After the installation of my MFA thesis show, any donated blankets to the project will be sent to Houses into Homes. These blankets will continue to engage in a history larger than ourselves and will bring warmth and comfort to communities in need. All “borrowed blankets” will be returned to the original owner, without alteration, but with a new piece of history now embedded within their fibers. They will continue to serve as a remembrance of an experience that embodies community.


Please contact me via email below if you are interested in participating. Help me spread the word about this project to anyone who might be interested in contributing. I can’t wait to see this project throughout every stage of its cycle! If you want to watch the process too, follow me on Instagram @jennifer_vess ! Tag me and use the project hashtag #coveredbycommunity. Be sure to follow our partner too!


I believe that art has the power to change our world, to bring light to the lived experience, and to inspire others to engage in the world and community around them. I’d love it if you’d be a part of this change.

All donations needed by March 1st.

Want to Participate? Contact me here for more info:

Thanks for your interest!

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