Metro Detroit artists say the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed them into the spotlight

Posted at 7:18 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 19:18:01-04

(WXYZ) — The pandemic is hurting the bottom line of so many businesses right now. But the business of art is still very much intact.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on small businesses across metro Detroit. But when it comes to independent artists, you might be surprised to know that many of them have managed to escape unscathed and are even thriving in these uncertain times.

Walking into the art studio of Desiree Kelly is like walking into a pop culture explosion.

This gallery is home to everyone from musicians to politicians, making Desiree somewhat of a magician.

The portrait artist is pumping out paintings around the clock- not to fill the walls, but rather the walls of homeowners across metro Detroit.

“I started getting the emails and the phone calls and have been busy ever since,” she says.

Those calls began last March, immediately after the shutdown began.

“A lot of people were telling me that they finally got the time to sit down and ask me to create a custom piece,” Desiree says.

For many small businesses, the pandemic has been crippling. But with more metro Detroiters focused on remodeling and decorating, the business of art, has been booming.

With 67 paintings sold in 2020, last year was Desiree’s best year yet.

And Desiree is far from alone.

“It really surged by over 400 percent,” Says Melvindale artist Shema Aman.

Aman is a modern abstract artist and Islamic calligraphist who’s pushed out over 360 orders in the last year with platforms like Zoom to thank.

“Working from home, it’s made people hyper-aware and cognizant of what’s behind them,” she says. “it’s your home, you want it to reflect you.”

Virtual platforms are driving the desire, but it’s the social media platforms driving the eyeballs.

Shema is getting the bulk of her business by posting videos on her Instagram page.

Meantime visual artist David Lyles AKA Artifax tells me his social media derived orders have picked up so much during the pandemic, he quit his job and now focuses on art full time from canvasses to clothing.

“Definitely a bunch of fresh eyes, brand new people I’m able to expose to my work,” he says.

As for Desiree? She’s had the privilege of going viral on Tik-Tok with a video of her making a Biggie-inspired RBG piece getting over 300,000 views - traction so good that she’s working on an order for a remake.

And as she works to create a crown of gold, she recognizes the silver lining.

“Just getting out to the general public has been really great,” she says.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.