Courtney Jette loves the Tri-Cities. Seeing the growth of local businesses has made her excited for the development of our area. Her job as a photographer and digital marketing specialist is to work with businesses on navigating their online platforms.

"It's fun to really help them continue to grow when I feel like they kinda helped me grow," said Jette.

When the pandemic hit, everything changed. She kept thinking of obstacles that it presented for these businesses.

"What it was going to do to all the people I'd met, all the places that had just opened, all the places that were about to open. And it was a little horrifying. I'm not trying to be dramatic but it was just this huge weight," said Jette.

Courtney immediately knew she wanted to do something for businesses in our area--using her favorite medium---photography. Thus "The Shutdown Project" was born.

"I honestly just made a social media post before I even knew what I was doing and I just sent it out," said Jette.

At first, she thought there would be maybe 10-15 businesses that would take part in her project--and then it exploded. It started with portraits and turned into full-blown- interviews that lasted for hours.

"Each interview brought a different sort of weight, because each business' circumstance was a little different," said Jette.

The point of this project was to show that business owners here are humans first and businesses owners second.

"You know, this is people's lives," said Jette.

She left each interview with a new perspective.

"They start out resilient, I think. And they only get more so as they go along," said Jette. "In the end, they ended up really helping me too."

She ended up working with a total of 31 business owners. Courtney didn't quite realize how many people were following her project.

Then, she got a call saying she had won the STAR award for 2020.

STAR stands for Supporting The Arts Recognition and it is awarded by the Richland Arts Commission and the Richland City Council. There were two categories---business and individual --and she won the individual category.

"The more I learned about the award, the more I'm excited in general for the Tri-Cities art scene to grow."

Courtney says the shutdown project isn't necessarily done, and hopes she can reconnect to see where people are at almost a year later. If you are a business owner or know of a business that would benefit from an interview or photos, Courtney's website can be found here.