The Autry Museum Wants To Collect Your Coronavirus Artifacts To Document These Strange Times

Photo submissions from Autry staff, part of the museum's living history collection of life during COVID-19 (Photo Courtesy of the Autry Museum)

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It's rare to live through something that you know will be part of history. But it's happening now. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly changed the way we live our lives, and will continue to affect our daily habits for months (or maybe even years) to come.

That's why the Autry Museum of the American West launched the "Collecting Community History Initiative - The West During COVID-19" - to document and record the history we're living through right now.

The museum is asking the public (that's you) to submit their own pandemic artifacts - things like home-made masks, online diaries, or photographs of loved ones, taken through a window.

It's part of a larger effort the museum is making to stay engaged with its audience while its physical doors are closed.

The initiative came about when staff at the museum were brainstorming ways to spotlight how the public is coping with COVID-19.

"We all pinpointed facemasks, home recipes, and journal entries," said curator Tyree Boyd-Pates, "whether it be a social media status or what they're putting in a bullet journal, we wanted [the public] to participate in this historical moment by submitting some of those entries, so that when the appropriate time comes, we can curate exhibitions or digital content that really captures this moment with them at the center."


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Through the initiative, which launched last week, the museum has already received quite a few submissions. Some standouts include several photos that show the deep cultural expression present in individual mask choices - like face coverings made of kente cloth or Native American prints.

A hand-crafted mask submitted to the Autry by a participant in the Community History Initiative (Photo courtesy of the Autry Museum)

"There are [museum] members within the Southland, who happen to identify as Navajo," said Boyd-Pates, "and we are getting waves of submissions about how they are engaged with this moment, not only here in the Southland, but with their reservation... and how they're making masks and sending masks in order to help those who are on the front lines."

Another standout submission came from a Gardena resident, who was using her bullet journal before the pandemic. When she was admitted to the hospital for COVID-19, she kept journaling. That journal is now an artifact in the collection.

"Her journal entries are just indicative of how all those in the L.A. basin are navigating this pandemic," said Boyd-Pates. "Fortunately, I can say she has recovered. And she has been able to share her story with the Autry."

The goal of the project is not only to document the history we're living through, but to also collect diverse stories.

"We not only want to hear written personal experiences from adults; we want to hear written personal experiences from elementary school students and high school students," said Boyd-Pates, "because we know that children are unable to go to classes in a traditional way...and so we want to make sure that their voices are captured, because this is an important moment."

Bullet journal submitted to the the Autry, as part of the coronavirus collection (Photo courtesy of the Autry Museum)

It's tough to say what form the collection will take once things settle down and we return to a new normal.

But Boyd-Pates sees the collection phase as a duty.

"This is how we can show future generations how we existed and rose to the occasion," he said. "We hope that we can incorporate some of these submissions into our physical collections...[and let] the general public see themselves in the galleries, because really that's the goal. We want to make sure that everyone feels represented on the gallery walls at the Autry."

If you're interested in submitting your facemask photos, journal entries, home recipes or anything else to the Autry's initiative, you can find more information here.

Listen to the full interview with Autry curator Tyree Boyd-Pates on Take Two:

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