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Do Good for the Good of the Stranger: Baltimore’s Art Scene Responds to COVID-19

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These are the same types who say the only thing to fear is fear, which of course is not true, because fear educates our care for each other -- we fear a sick person might be made sicker, or that a poor person's life might be made even more miserable, and we do whatever we can to protect them because we fear a version of human life in which everyone lives for themselves only.
Anne Boyer

We are not used to slowing down, are we? It feels bad, feels wrong, feels unproductive. We are so dependent on the official word and too eager to wait and see. We try to test our limits. But it is really important that we do slow down, wash our hands often for at least 20 seconds, don’t touch our faces, don’t go out as much, sneeze and cough into a tissue or a bent elbow, and don’t panic (although as my therapist reminded me yesterday, anxiety and panic are actually pretty rational responses to a pandemic for which the country you live in has no real plan). We must abide by these guidelines especially to protect people who are more vulnerable to illness.

Even before the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, a pandemic, we’ve been seeing local institutions respond: They say they are monitoring the situation and following CDC guidelines, some are canceling events, many universities are moving classes online. The cancellation of national events—such as SXSW, the Los Angeles Art Book Fair, and others—has a local reverberation for the Baltimore-based artists expecting to show their work, make connections, and hopefully get paid at these events. And although this news release doesn’t specifically mention the pandemic, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts have partnered to provide $5,000 grants to cover emergency medical aid for visual and media artists and choreographers who are citizens or permanent residents of the US or its territories. Applications are open now, and will be reviewed by a panel starting in late May of this year.

All of these cancellations are, of course, in the best interest of everybody’s health, but especially those of us whose immune systems are less resilient or suppressed. In a recent newsletter, the poet Anne Boyer—one of the best writers on the emotional and material effects of illness, care, work and such—encourages us to organize, today, around the most vulnerable: 

“In the meantime, the world’s eugenicists-in-chiefs appear to lick their lips at the prospect of the deaths of the elderly, sick, and poor. The vicious denialism of Trump, Johnson, and Bolsanaro is the logic that also governed yesterday’s every day misery, made grand to fit today’s catastrophe. […]

These are the same types who say the only thing to fear is fear, which of course is not true, because fear educates our care for each other — we fear a sick person might be made sicker, or that a poor person’s life might be made even more miserable, and we do whatever we can to protect them because we fear a version of human life in which everyone lives for themselves only.  I am not the least bit afraid of this kind of fear, for fear is a vital and necessary part of love. And this fear, which I love, is right now particularly justified, because we have a pernicious virus that travels inside the healthy to sicken and kill the already fragile, and therefore requires that the healthy and strong deepen their moral commitments for the benefit of the sick and weak. We must learn to do good for the good of the stranger now.”

Robert Rauschenberg in front of his Vydock series photographed in his Laika Lane studio, Captiva, Florida, 1995. Photo: Ed Chappell. Courtesy/Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

The Baltimore-based artist and curator Lynne Parks also made clear the stakes of this pandemic in a recent Facebook post: “Sure, many of you are likely to survive Covid-19, but there are millions of us who are immunocompromised who might not. Please don’t get us sick by not practicing personal hygiene measures.” After detailing some of her history of illness and medical conditions including cancer, Parks writes: “I’m lucky to be alive thanks to modern medicine. I’m not a ‘useless eater.’ I’m a practicing artist and curator. I’m doing something about the biodiversity crisis that’s underway. I monitor, transport, engage in educational outreach and advocacy for bird conservation, which means conservation for all. Because I’ve always supported human rights, I know that environmental justice is essential in helping everyone and everything. Nature is our life support system.”

As an immunocompromised person myself whose job is, in part, to go out and see as much art as I can, I will be practicing social distancing when I do go out and/or basically just staying home as much as I can. And as a person prone to a somewhat emotionally confusing combination of worry, doubt, and pragmatism, I am heartened by the cancellations and the encouragement to stay away from crowds and to look after each other as a way to mitigate the virus’ spread. I’m worried about the financial impact this pandemic is bound to have on people who are hourly employees or service workers; worried too about all the people not staying home when they ought to because they literally have to work in order to survive. (I’m encouraged, also, by seeing progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calling for an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs due to the virus—effectively a sane and humane way to lessen the burden of people living paycheck to paycheck who cannot work from home. Also announced on Thursday, Baltimore City is halting evictions while schools are closed.)

I am trying to turn away from cynicism and doubt because I want to believe that we can rely on each other.

A list of arts- and culture-related cancellations and postponements:

-Right as it was about to celebrate the opening of the new 2020 Vision Contemporary installation, the Baltimore Museum of Art has canceled/postponed all events through April 12 and the museum (and its satellite location at Lexington Market) will be closed through April 12.

-The Walters Art Museum has canceled all programs and tours through April 12 and the museum will be closed March 14-31.

-The AVAM is closed March 14-31.

-BmoreArt’s Connect+Collect gallery openings have been postponed until further notice.

-The exhibit Unnatural Causes: Art of a Critical Nature, curated by Lynne Parks at the Carroll Mansion, has been postponed. (Visit the Peale’s website for more info on event postponements.)

-The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts has canceled in-person information sessions about their programming and events for people interested in working with BOPA. The Facebook Live Information Session scheduled for March 24 is still on. 

-BOPA has also closed its galleries and attractions (Top of the World Observation Level, Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, The Cloisters, and School 33 Art Center) starting March 14, until further notice.

-Maryland Art Place (MAP) is closed through late April. MAP’s events, including the “Merkin Dream” Fashion Show (scheduled March 28) and the 23rd Annual Out of Order Benefit Exhibition (scheduled April 10) are postponed. From MAP: “All those who have become members during our Membership Drive, please know your membership purchase, which grants you access to Out or Order will be honored. MAP’s Membership Drive will continue until April 10, 2020. All tickets purchased for either event will be honored as well. If you cannot make the new event date(s) once determined, we will happily refund your ticket at that time.”

-Goya Contemporary has postponed the reception for Jo Smail: Bees with Sticky Feet.

-Galerie Myrtis has postponed Women Heal Through Rite and Ritual.

-The CityLit Festival, originally slated for March 21 at the Enoch Pratt Library, has been postponed.

-All programs at the Enoch Pratt Free Library branches have been canceled until March 31; libraries are closed starting 5 p.m. on March 13 until further notice. The digital library is still usable.

-The Parkway Theatre is closed March 13-26

Baltimore Center Stage has cancelled its Spring Break Camp: Session One (March 16-20) and Where We Stand Mobile Unit community tour, and postponed Young Playwright’s Festival (March 27) and Maker Night in the Prop Shop (March 28). Center Stage is “in the process of adapting our programming to share with you virtually.” (See their site and social media for more info.)

-DC’s Transformer gallery has postponed all public programs until further notice.

The Sun has an ongoing list of local cancellations related to COVID-19. 

-Artnet News is updating this list of art-world events that are canceled or postponed due to coronavirus concerns, as well as museum/gallery closures.

via @hot.crip on Instagram

More advice/resources: 

-Check in on your immunocompromised pals. Pick up groceries and prescriptions for them if you can; drive them to doctor’s appointments if they aren’t able to do so themselves. 

-Read up on mutual aid and how to create systems of support and care within your own community. This “pod mapping for mutual aid” document, assembled by Rebel Sidney Black (and originally developed by Mia Mingus for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective), is a great tool for getting organized to care for your people and your people’s people.

-Follow and support disabled activists such as Mia Mingus and Sharona aka @hot.crip on Instagram; check out Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Half Assed Disabled Prepper Tips for Preparing for a Coronavirus Quarantine.”

-Check out this crowdsourced list of emergency funding/resources for freelance artists compiled by Nicole Brewer, Ann Marie Lonsdale, Quanice Floyd, Tiffany Wilhelm, Brian Herrera, Hannah Fenlon, and Clementine Bordeaux. See also: Springboard for the Arts‘ aggregated lists of resources for artists and Common Field‘s open-access Google Doc for additional info. These sorts of lists are bound to overlap but are all worth looking through.

-Use but don’t hoard hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfecting cleaners.

-For the love of god, yeah, wash your hands. (Thank you, Butch Dawson, for setting a good example.) Do this all the time, always, not just during a pandemic. 

Updated 3/13/2020 to reflect changes in closure policies

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