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Michigan State University

MSU professor and olympian part of Olympian Artists Program

Michigan State University Professor and Olympian Kelly Salchow MacArthur is once again part of the Olympics, this time leading a community art project.

Through the Olympian Artists program, an initiative by the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, Salchow MacArthur led a workshop series creating mixed media collages with children from two community centers in Paris, France. Her workshop project, from Oct. 23-28, 2023, was the first community project in the Olympian Artists program leading up to the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

Kelly Salchow MacArthur looks at black and white collages on the wall with two other women.
Olympian and Professor Kelly Salchow MacArthur (left) worked with children in two Paris community centers to create collages that represent the spirit and values of the Olympics in anticipation of Paris 2024.

“My experience in sport and design has inherently influenced my life in countless ways. They are formative parts of my personality,” Salchow MacArthur said. “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share some of this with children in Paris.”

The Olympian Artists program launched in 2018 by the Culture and Heritage Department of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a way for Olympians and Paralympians to creatively share their experiences as athletes and artists on a global platform through community projects (new this year) and original art. The program, run through the Olympic Museum as one of several international arts initiatives administered by the IOC, provides artistic explorations into athletics and the Olympic values as connected with culture and creativity.

Salchow MacArthur was a member of the United States National Women’s Rowing Team in the 2000 Olympics hosted by Sydney, Australia, and the 2004 Olympics hosted by Athens, Greece. In addition to being a former elite athlete, Salchow MacArthur is an educator, researcher, and practitioner of graphic design in MSU’s Department of Art, Art History, and Design.

Kelly Salchow MacArthur rowing with three other teammates.
Kelly Salchow MacArthur (front) with her rowing team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

“My outreach experience as a design educator at MSU has prepared me for this, as I’ve previously led creative community workshops with youth,” she said. “From the art and design perspective, this was a chance for me to talk to children about visual sensitivity, framing and narrative, making the peripheral focal, and finding the beauty in the everyday.”

To participate in the Olympian Artists program connected with Paris 2024, there were 96 Olympians and Paralympians from 32 different countries who responded to an international recruitment campaign led by the Olympic Museum; 25 project proposals were considered as part of a group of finalists.

Including Salchow MacArthur, four Olympians and one Paralympian were chosen as artists-in-residence to work on community projects and creative workshops in the Paris metropolitan area. Another six Olympian artists will produce individual art projects in the months leading up to the Paris 2024 Opening Ceremonies on July 26, 2024.

“From the art and design perspective, this was a chance for me to talk to children about visual sensitivity, framing and narrative, making the peripheral focal, and finding the beauty in the everyday.”
Kelly Salchow MacArthur, Michigan State University Professor of Art, Art History, and Design

Previously, Salchow MacArthur also participated in the Olympian Artists program during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Her Japanese-style Noren curtain panels depicting the Olympic spirit and values were on display in Tokyo and part of the online Olympic Agora Tokyo 2020 exhibition.

In anticipation of her collage workshops in Paris, Salchow MacArthur took photos in Michigan of children being active, sports objects and athletic venues, and generated a list of words in English and French that embodied Olympic values. To establish comfort and connection with their own neighborhoods, Salchow MacArthur also took photos in the 10th and the 19th arrondissements where the community centers and children she would be working with were located.

The children especially enjoyed leading Salchow MacArthur through their neighborhoods on photo safaris to capture additional images.

Two girls create collage with scissors
Childrens' hands cutting up black and white collage

“This was a very exciting way to connect with the local community—to not just visit Paris as a tourist or an athlete. It was a poignant chance to get to know the people a bit better and form friendships through our immersive creative time together,” Salchow MacArthur said. “I was able to have meaningful conversations and make connections that definitely wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

In four workshops over two days, Salchow MacArthur worked with a group of 6- to 11-year-olds and a group of adolescents to create collages with the photographs and words that represented Olympic values. The resulting artwork was publicly exhibited in the community centers.

Two girls point to black and white collages up on a wall.
Children in Paris participated in collage workshops to explore ways they are a part of the Olympics coming to their city in July 2024. These workshops were led by two-time Olympian and MSU Professor Kelly Salchow MacArthur through the Olympian Artists program.

“We talked about how they are a part of the Olympics coming to their city this summer. We also talked about things that make them feel strong and confident,” she said. “The time we spent together enacted supportive teamwork and cross-cultural collaboration with one focus, and one goal, together.”

Salchow MacArthur believes that community art projects can help make ideas and ambitions—like what is embodied in the spirit of the Olympics—more accessible to people of all ages, including children.

“My hope is that this demonstrates that the Olympics are just as much their experience as anyone else’s and that when the Olympics come to their city, it’s something that everyone has a connection to and can be proud of,” she said. “Maybe they’re even developing their own aspirations because every Olympian’s journey begins with a dream.”

By Beth Bonsall, originally published by the College of Arts and Letters

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