Lehi artist promotes unity through anti-racism project

A Provo community member adds her handprint to the canvas, signaling her willingness to stand for change. (Addie Blacker)

Michelle Volz was lying awake with a toothache when the idea for an art project struck.

As an artist, Volz is no stranger to creative inspiration, but this idea was different. With this project, Volz wanted to bring the community together — one handprint at a time.

Volz, a self-described “white suburban mom,” felt helpless in light of the racism and unrest overrunning the country in recent weeks. She wanted to act — to show her solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and her commitment to promoting change — but wasn’t sure how.

In teaching her daughters about contemporary racial issues, however, current events began to mix with her thoughts about her work, and when the idea came to her, she knew she had to pursue it.

It was “one of those ideas that makes it hard to sit still,” she wrote on her website.

Michelle Volz sets up her art station at a march in Provo on June 13. (Addie Blacker)

For this project, Volz paints community members’ hands the color of their skin and has them leave a handprint on a canvas. Each handprint, Volz said, represents that person’s commitment to stand for change.

“They’ve been pledging with their hands on these canvases to no longer be silent on issues of race and injustices that they might encounter, and to listen, and to learn and to continue to be part of this conversation that we’re having in this community,” she said.

Volz has taken her project to protests in Salt Lake City, Lehi and Provo. She partnered with Unified Allies 4 Change to host a Handprint Challenge event at Joaquin Park June 11. Unified Allies 4 Change co-founder Cole Stewart-Johnson said around 100 people came to leave their handprint that evening.

“It’s powerful to be able to see the community represented in that way,” Stewart-Johnson said, adding that it’s easy to hide in the crowd at a protest, but leaving a handprint is a more visible form of activism. “Each handprint is unique, and by placing your hand on there, you are uniquely attesting to your desire and your commitment to moving this forward and helping those who are struggling.”

Volz has filled multiple canvases with handprints. One, she plans to gift to the state. Another, she auctioned off for $610, which she will donate to the NAACP. BYU Counseling and Psychological Services has expressed interest in purchasing a third.

Michelle Volz paints a toddler’s hand. (Addie Blacker)

No one perfectly understands every other point of view and no one deserves to be defined by stigma or stereotype, according to Volz. This art, she said, is a reminder that everyone has a different life experience and that everyone has a role in the movement against racism.

“Maybe if you’re into writing you can write about it. Maybe if you’re into art you can create an art piece. If you are really good at teaching, maybe you can make sure that you teach somebody about it,” she said. “I think we just all have to look individually at what we’re able to give with our own gifts.”

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