Getting to The Art of It: #CovidStoriesNYC
Photo Courtesy of Mitchell Hartman, “Gang Related” 2020 © Mitchell Hartmann
While Museums have been closed for the past few weeks, many are working to bring visitors new content online. The Museum of the City of New York is using Instagram to document what New Yorkers are experiencing during the pandemic. They’re encouraging residents to post pictures of their everyday lives under the hashtag #Covidstoriesnyc. Submissions picked by the museum's curators are then posted on their instagram page, @museumofthecityny
The posts make up a sort of virtual exhibit for instagram users to explore. They include New Yorkers interacting with their bodega cashier through a plastic screen, empty post office lines, and of course people leaning out their windows to clap and cheer for health care workers at the end of the day. Vice President of Collections for the Museum, Lindsay Turley says the pictures reflect what the museum has always tried to capture; the everyday happenings of urban life.
The Museum staff began thinking of ways to document what was happening as soon as it became clear that the city would be shutting down for some time. Not being able to physically interact with people to collect objects like they normally would, they had to think of other ways to document the pandemic while it was unfolding.
#Covidstoriesnyc is just the first part of the museum’s strategy to document the pandemic Turley explained, “part of that open call was also asking the public to send us descriptions of objects they have that they think could help us document the situation and could be used in the collection in the future.”
“My background is as an archivist,” Turley said, “and as archivists when a big event like this happens you’re always thinking what am I gonna collect to document this and how can I get it before it disappears.” Even if the museum can’t get to those objects right now, Turley hopes both these strategies will help people think about how the things in their life can be reflective of what New Yorkers are dealing with as a whole.
Turley also said #covidstoriesnyc posts will help to inform the museum’s collection strategies once they open back up.
“Right now we’re all so trapped in our own geographic spheres and to not see what is going on around the city with our own eyes is challenging, so it is going to be these photographs that shape how we want to document this time in our collection.”
Turley said museum professionals like her are still trying to learn the best way to go about the situation.
“I had one person ask me what we can learn from collecting around Covid, can we learn how to prevent pandemic? And, I’m a museum professional, I’m not a doctor. I can’t speak to that, but I think what we’ve seen so far speaks to the humanity and resiliency of New Yorkers. There’s been a lot of beautiful moments between strangers and support for each other, and I think that’s what we can draw on.”
In terms of advice for New Yorkers on what to document, Turley said their daily lives are the perfect fodder.
“I think everyone should just pay attention to what they’re doing. To them it may feel routine and not something we would necessarily be interested in, but we want to document the everyday nuances of life and how we are all coping.”
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