The McNay Art Museum remains closed to the public, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t open to what the public has to say about its pandemic experiences.
Earlier this month, the museum launched an effort to collect a “Community COVID-19 Archive” of pandemic-related materials, inviting members of the Bexar County arts community to contribute personal recollections, daily journals, emails to friends and family, images, audio and video recordings, and other documents to the museum.
Any member of the arts community, whether a behind-the-scenes cultural worker, visual or performing artist, writer, or someone involved in any arts-related activity, is eligible to contribute materials with an “emphasis … on self-expression, candor and a willingness to be a social commentator,” according to a McNay email newsletter announcement.
“We are living in an historic moment,” the announcement reads. “In the same way that we are fascinated by how we handled the 1918 flu epidemic, future generations will want to know how we navigated the experience of a global pandemic in the 21st century.”
McNay archivist Leslie Straus said that in early April, museum and university archivists from across the country brainstormed ideas on how to work from home. She had already been thinking about how to collect people’s personal stories of the pandemic, but several examples helped coalesce how she would go about it, Straus said.
One university archive pioneered the online submission form, and a nursing history research center at the University of Illinois-Chicago “cemented the idea that collecting material from … a niche community was doable,” Straus said.
Straus first reached out to McNay employees to spread the word, then included the invitation in the museum email newsletter. So far, she’s received several submissions that include answers to a brief survey.
“Responses come from all along the emotional spectrum,” Straus said, “ranging from the experience of fatigue, numbness, and artist’s block to a feeling of thankful[ness] for what they do have and even a joy in reconnecting and growing closer to friends and family.”
Rene Barilleaux, head of curatorial affairs, said the museum is interested in the mindset of artists. “Documenting this moment, especially as it manifests in our creative community, deepens the McNay’s commitment to San Antonio-based artists by capturing aspects of this time, often fleeting, that are not [otherwise] evident in the works of art that are and will be produced about the pandemic.”
Members of the arts community interested in donating to the archive can fill out a Google form or contact Straus by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss ways to submit material to the COVID archives project, she said.
It’s not yet clear what form the archive will ultimately take or when it might become available to the public, Straus said. “We don’t know how long this pandemic and its lasting effects will drag on, but I want to make sure the McNay archives is capturing a wide range of thoughts and opinions to look back on.”
There currently is no end date for submissions, and contributors may submit multiple times, she said.