A&E

Exhibit Displays Pandemic-Era Artwork, Stories and More

Exhibit aims to provide ‘cathartic experience’

The Surviving Covid Project, organized by local nurse Tawnya Gilbert, includes collected work aiming to provide emotional support to people working in ICUs. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SANTA CRUZ MAH

Last week, members of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) had an exclusive sneak peak of the new exhibit In These Uncertain Times: Creativity, Community, and Compassion During a Global Pandemic.

The virtual event was the only time people can view the show until the MAH’s physical building is once again open to the public.

Initially, the show was scheduled to open in late 2020, but after Covid-19 numbers rose and the county was pushed back into more restrictions on what can be open, the museum had to remain shuttered.

Still, the exhibit has moved forward. Artists and staff were hard at work last week with installation, and the plan is to keep the exhibit up as long as it takes to safely reopen the museum.

“The idea is that we’ll have all this artwork up and ready for when we do open,” said Exhibitions and Program Manager Everett Ó Cillín. “We wanted to design something that will be a cathartic experience … for people to come and see what incredible things others were working on during this time.”

In These Uncertain Times has been in the works since the initial closures in March 2020. MAH staff had the idea to highlight the creativity and compassion they saw blooming amidst the crisis. They reached out to the community, seeing if they’d be interested in collaborating. 

The response was immediate. Close to 150 people from across Santa Cruz County expressed interest, and that grew after another more formal open call to local creatives was sent out.

“There has been such a wonderful show of support,” Ó Cillín said. “People are eager to show their artistic process, what they’ve been creating.”

The exhibit will include a selected group of “anchor” artists as well as a long list of “community-sourced” contributors. Some of the pieces will relate directly to the pandemic. For instance, The Surviving Covid Project, organized by local nurse Tawnya Gilbert, includes collected work aiming to provide emotional support to people working in ICUs. 

“In early March 2020 I was struck with the realization that nurses had an obligation to get our country through this [pandemic],” Gilbert wrote in her artist’s statement. “I was aware of the fear and tragedy touching the lives of all healthcare workers and wanted to find a way to bring inspiration, hope, humor and humanity back into our hospital break rooms.”

Other pieces will be from creators who used shelter-in-place to develop new skills: Textiles, paintings, videos, etc. A video piece, “Essential Workers: Campesinos” from Gabriel Medina of Watsonville’s Digital NEST about farmworkers and their families will be featured.

In addition, MAH has been teaming up with the Santa Cruz Downtown Association for related pop-ups. The displays are located at 119 and 121 Walnut Ave. in Santa Cruz. One covers the 1918 influenza pandemic—in particular, how Santa Cruz County responded to it.

Ó Cillín said that learning about that history is a good way to help move forward.

“We’re experiencing many of the same moments,” they said. “This shows us, we’ve been here before, and we’ll make it through.”

The museum has also been finding new ways to use their space during the pandemic. They transformed one of their galleries into a studio, inviting local artist Abi Mustapha to have a residency there for three months. One of her pieces will be featured in In These Uncertain Times.

This year, the MAH will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Staff hopes to hold a celebration this summer. For now though, they aim to keep supporting the community in any way they can.

“This isn’t the first pandemic and it won’t be the last,” Ó Cillín said. “While in this time of uncertainty … creativity and compassion will help us to process and move on.”

For more information about “In These Uncertain Times,” visit: santacruzmah.org/exhibitions/uncertain-times.

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