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Northern Michigan artists decorate masks for patients and healthcare workers

Aaron Selbig

Local artists are making tough times a little brighter for patients and health care workers at Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital in Frankfort. A collection of 23 hand-decorated masks was delivered to the hospital Monday. The masks are part of a contest called “Make a Mask, Make a Difference,” held by the Oliver Art Center. 

Executive Director Mercedes Michalowski says the idea for the contest began a few months ago, when Michigan’s stay-at-home order was issued and the art center was shut down.

“Closing the doors and going home was a difficult transition because we are a community center,” says Michalowski. “We’re here for people to come visit us. So when we can’t have people come visit us, it became really important for us to reach out.”

Then, in June, when they were finally able to open the doors again, it meant social distancing and, of course, masks. So the art center’s board of directors called on artists to put their creative spin on the masks that everyone now has to wear. 

After all, says Michalowski, masks don’t have to be boring.

“It can be more of a fashion accessory,” she says. “It’s like your sunglasses or your socks or your belt buckle. It’s something that everybody has to wear so we might as well just embrace it and have a little fun and show some creativity and individuality with it.”

The art center turned its idea into the “Make a Mask, Make a Difference” contest, with cash prizes for the top three entries. Pretty quickly, they received 23 submissions.

One mask is a brightly colored tribute to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Another has a bright red cardinal embroidered into it amongst a cluster of flowers.

The winner of the $250 top prize is a plain white cloth mask with a small yet detailed painting of the Point Betsie lighthouse. Mika Jones, an oil and watercolor painter from Midland, painted the winning mask.

Credit Aaron Selbig
Mika Jones' winning entry features a small painting of the Point Betsie lighthouse.

“I used fabric paints so that they would be permanent,” says Jones. “Then I pressed it with an iron so that it would really firm up so that it could be washable.”

The masks have to be durable because they’re all being donated to the Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital, where they’ll be distributed to staff and patients. 


“They’ll love it,” says Peter Marinoff, president of the hospital. “It’s really funny because … we’ve had other donations of masks and if you lay masks out on a table, they speak to people and they’re going right for the mask that they want. So having that little extra artistic input makes it a little more fun.”


Marinoff says the masks bring joy during a busy and stressful time, when the hospital has been doing a lot of COVID-19 testing while protecting its vulnerable patients. 

Credit Aaron Selbig
Midland artist Mika Jones and her winning mask.

“Things like this … is what makes small communities so special, and makes it such a joy to work here,” he says.

Jones says she feels the same way about community, and that’s why she’s donating her prize money back to the Oliver Art Center.