As a writer and as a way to cope, I’ve been journaling about the many ways my life and the lives of my family have changed in response to the coronavirus, COVID-19 and the Stay Home, Stay Healthy quarantine. I wondered if my grandchildren would someday read my journals and learn more about this historic time.
I know I’m not the only one who has channeled energy toward creative outlets during this time. Social media, news organizations, and websites have shared stories from across the country of how people are expressing their new experiences. As a civilization, we also learn and grow from our collective history. But that only happens if we record that history for future generations.
Our local libraries wondered how they could help preserve people’s #PandemicLife experiences through photography, film, audio, art and writing.
I recently spoke with Whatcom County Library System’s Community Relations Manager, Mary Vermillion, about how they will help document for posterity this unusual time in our lives..
Bellingham Public Library Director Rebecca Judd contacted Christine Perkins, Whatcom County Library System Director, after noticing several creative projects happening in our community related to capturing COVID-19 experiences. Together, their teams developed a new project: People’s Perspectives: COVID-19 in Whatcom County.
They reached out to the Whatcom County community and several nonprofits, businesses, news and radio organizations and schools to see who would be interested in recording and archiving their stories. This collaboration is an attempt to amplify each of those efforts, to encourage community participation, and (importantly) to ensure these stories can be found in the future.
Many responded. Each organization is gathering submissions on their own timelines and the Bellingham Public and Whatcom County Library Systems will curate and archive the collection. The project includes works in a variety of storytelling media including photography, audio, mixed media and written accounts. Western Libraries, Division of Heritage Resources has generously offered to help guide the archival process.
So many local organizations are involved in the project that you can express yourself through almost any media. When public activities are able to resume safely in the future, the Libraries plan to have the People’s Perspectives present and make available the public.
The Power of the Written Word
For most of us, reading has been the traditional method to learn about—and document—our world. Books, magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs and social media posts still dominate as methods of communication and as a writer, the written word is often my chosen form of communication.
Writing about how my life has changed has served many functions over the past several months. It has helped keep my attitude upbeat even when it feels chaotic and that no one is listening, my journal is there. It can also be a way to give back to future generations by giving them a peek inside how we responded individually and as a community in our homes, schools, businesses, organizations and institutions.
If writing is your chosen method of communication, there are a number of ways to participate through both poetry and prose. The Dear History Project, coordinated by Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library Systems, invites you to write a letter to the future.
There are almost no limits to how you can express your thoughts and experiences. If you need inspiration, their website includes a list of questions to help guide you, but you’re not required to address them. When your letter is complete, you can keep it to yourself or submit it via email or regular mail. Since your name and personal contact information won’t be archived or publicized, you can feel comfortable about your personal privacy.
If you live in Whatcom County, your poetry or creative nonfiction could be chosen to be shared at a virtual reading via Writing Together, Rising Together by the Chuckanut Writers Conference in September 2020.
Submissions may explore any aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. They especially invite submissions from young writers and will include elementary students, junior high and high school students works in the reading. Submissions will be accepted until July 15, 2020.
Western Libraries Division of Heritage Resources will also be creating a digital archive of Western Washington University’s (WWU) response to the pandemic. They’ll be collecting stories, photographs, recordings and other digital chronicles of the pandemic through the voices of students, faculty, staff and community members.
A Snapshot in Time
For almost two centuries, visual images through photography have moved, informed and inspired us. Photographs say so much without any words at all. And thanks to modern technology, almost everyone has a camera in their pocket ready to capture every moment.
WWU’s digital archive is also accepting photography related to any subject related to Western Washington University from students, faculty, staff and community members.
You can also submit photos to the City of Bellingham’s Capturing Covid Life project. Each photo needs to be submit to their online form, each photo will need you to your title and description. Photographers will retain the ownership and copyright for submitted photos, but submitting them does allow the City to use them in the future with credit but without compensation.
In response to the pandemic, The Northern Light, the community newspaper of Blaine and Birch Bay, created an eight week challenge called Young Reporters. For eight weeks, the paper invited kids of all ages to respond to weekly prompts that explore the effects of the Covid-19 and the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
You can view the winning photos and stories submitted each week as a snapshot into the lives of local kids and how they handled the last several months.
In addition to the WWU Archive project, there are multiple opportunities to share your story and listen to those of others.
Even before the virus came to town, Whatcom Museum’s Story Dome project was underway. Story Dome refers to a colorful geodesic recording booth in the lobby of the Lightcatcher building where museum visitors were invited to share thoughts, stories, poems or music.
Luckily—in light of closures and social distancing—the Story Dome project continues online. The public is invited to share via their online portal, where you can tell a short story, sing a song or simply respond to suggested prompts on their website about how your life has changed over the past several months.
Perhaps the best part is that you can also listen to what others have recorded on their SoundCloud station.
KMRE radio on 102.3 FM, the community station is airing KMRE Coronavirus Stories. Each episode is an interview with a community member or organization discussing how they’ve adapted to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Several of the arts organizations mentioned here have been interviewed, as well as local businesses, politicians and others making a difference in the community.
Say More with Your Visual Art
The visual arts encompass a wide variety of media, from water color, paint, and drawing to sculpture and the digital arts. Each creation is one of a kind, expressing the story of each artist with depth and complexity.
Allied Arts of Whatcom County will host a community exhibit inspired by experiences and creations made during the COVID-19 crisis. A virtual display of community submission will appear on their website. All ages are welcome to submit a photo or video of their creation, performance or reading, with or without the process used to create it. Submissions are open now through July 6, 2020.
You don’t need to be an Allied Arts member to participate, but new members are always welcome. Due to the large volume of artists in the community, each person is limited to one entry.
When Allied Art is able to open up to the public, they plan to display up to nine works that will be chosen from the submissions. These nine works will be on display throughout Whatcom County and Bellingham Public libraries. You never know, it could be yours.
The Washington Center for the Book has invited Washingtonians of every age to submit their COVID-19 stories in the form of an original zine or a few pages for inclusion in a collaborative zine under Sheltered in Place: COVID-19 Zine Diaries Project.
If you’re not familiar with a zine, it is a small-circulation self-published work that can include images and text, and are often reproduced into photocopied prints for circulation. Their goal is to help Washingtonians stay connected and comforted through the pandemic as well as documenting this time for future readers.
Whatcom Art Guild has challenged its members to submit pieces made in 2020 on the theme Out the Window. With closures and canceled events, our lives have become more home-centered and our view of the world is more inspired by what we see from our own windows.
They’ll accept submissions from Guild members through July 14 and then submit a select few to appear in future People’s Perspectives exhibitions. You might also see submissions on the Guild’s Facebook and Instagram page.
This is just a sampling of the organizations participating in the project. New projects and opportunities to share your voice, creativity and experience will be added so check back on the People’s Perspectives Project over the coming months!
Whether you choose one medium or submit multiple pieces, make sure to take advantage of these opportunities to have your voice and vision preserved as a piece of history. One day, future generations will look back and wonder what life was like during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. You can make sure that your own unique story of is part of the overall picture captured for posterity through the arts via Whatcom County Library System and Bellingham Public Library’s People’s Perspectives archive.
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