Living, Creating, and Healing Through COVID-19

Project

Viral Imaginations: COVID-19

Researchers

Bernice Hausman (Team Leader, Humanities, College of Medicine), Michele Mekel (Team Leader, Bioethics Program), Karen Keifer-Boyd and Lauren Stetz (Art Education), James Dillard (Communication Arts and Sciences), and Clayton Lose (Information Technology - Liberal Arts)

Background Info

Starting in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. By March 2020, shelter-in-place and lock-down orders were commonplace. Despite such efforts and the eventual advent of masking mandates, the virus continues to ravage the world, with 3 million deaths globally and 600,000 in the United States, alone (as of March 2021). While the stunning scientific achievement of novel vaccines developed in less than a year has provided great hope for ending the pandemic, new variants and additional waves of COVID continue alongside vaccine roll out.

Problem

Isolation and uncertainty have been hallmarks of life in the Covidian era. As with other pandemics, this period has also witnessed a rise of “othering” and “scapegoating,” as social structures fray due to the pandemic and other global and national crises.   

Understanding such historic times is crucial, but preserved personal narratives of pandemic life are rare, as is the case with the 1918 Spanish Flu. Moreover, the preservation of such stories is linked to possession of narrative privilege that comes with intersections of wealth, class, education, recognized talent, age, and the like. As a result, many personal narratives are lost to history.

Goals

In April 2020, during Pennsylvania’s shelter-in-place phase, Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 was launched as an interdisciplinary effort with the goal of capturing creative reflections of life during COVID by current and former Pennsylvanians of all ages. Works are displayed in a web-based, publicly-accessible, curated gallery and will be preserved as an archive of these pandemic days.

The online project gives Pennsylvanians a creative outlet to share their pandemic experiences and relate to the experiences of others.

Progress/Findings

Viral Imaginations develops community, understanding, and empathy by sheltering in the arts and the humanities. And, through this creative archive of first-person, lived pandemic narratives across numerous and diverse intersectionalities, Viral Imaginations preserves for future study self-represented accounts by those often overlooked in historic reports. Additionally, the project provides educational resources, such as lesson plans, that help instill the value of the arts and the humanities in critically addressing crises, such as pandemics. Finally, this project affords Penn State students at the undergraduate and graduate levels with immersive, hybrid learning opportunities and professional development through hands-on project work.

Submissions of visual art and/or creative writing  by current and former Pennsylvanians may be made online via the Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 website.