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Feb. 26, 2024

MSU Professor, Olympian leads Paris community art project in advance of 2024 Olympics

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

Three people look at an exhibit of photos and collages posted on a wall.
Olympian and MSU Professor Kelly Salchow MacArthur (left) worked with children in two Paris community centers to create collages that represented the spirit and values of the Olympics in anticipation of 2024 Paris. Courtesy: Kelly Salchow MacArthur.

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

“I recognize that the Olympics and design have changed my life in so many ways. Those are really formative parts of my personality,” Salchow MacArthur said. “I was happy that I had the opportunity to share some of that with these kids in Paris.”

The Olympian Artists program launched in 2018 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, managed through the Olympic Museum in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee, provides artistic explorations into athletics as connected with culture and creativity.

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

Four people are rowing together on a body of water. They wear hats and it's a sunny day.
Kelly Salchow MacArthur (front) with her rowing team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Courtesy: Kelly Salchow MacArthur.

“My experience as an educator at MSU has prepared me for something like this, and I’ve done prior community workshops with youth,” she said. “Putting the designer hat on, it was a chance for me to talk to kids about visual sensitivity, framing and finding the beauty in the everyday.”

To participate in the Olympian Artists program connected with Paris 2024, 96 past Olympians and Paralympians from 32 different countries applied with different project proposals.

Including Salchow MacArthur, three 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.

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.

Photos and collages with words are posted up on a wall. Two adolescents look at the exhibit and point at some of the displayed images.
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. Courtesy: Kelly Salchow MacArthur.

In anticipation of her collage workshops in Paris, Salchow MacArthur took photos in Michigan of kids being active, of different sports objects and of athletic venues, as well as came up with a list of words in English and French that embodied Olympic values. To recognize their own neighborhoods, Salchow MacArthur also took photos in the 10th and the 19th arrondissements, or districts, where the community centers and kids she would be working with were located.

“This was a really exciting way to connect with the local community, and not just visit Paris as a tourist or a visitor or an athlete, but really as someone who is going to see how people live in Paris and get to know the people a bit better,” Salchow MacArthur said. “I was able to make connections that I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make 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.

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

Salchow MacArthur thinks that community art projects can help make ideas and aspirations, 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 comes 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 just starts with a dream.

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