COVID & the Arts: Pandemic Reflections
With several crises occurring simultaneously, it’s obvious we’re living through some historic times.
The Davenport Public Library and Putnam Museum and Science Center want you to be part of that history as it’s collected, by submitting your personal, written impressions, documents, photos, and videos about life in the Quad-Cities during the Covid-19 era. Both Davenport institutions are collecting reflections about how life has changed since the pandemic began early this year. With this collection, present and future generations of Quad Citizens will be able to learn what life was like for people during this time.
For the library’s project, “QC Life In the New Normal," it’s asking people to compile essays, short stories, diary entries, poems, or other creative writing pieces as well as photos and other visual art. In addition, it suggests donating physical documents such as letters, handwritten documents, or anything you'd like to share.
Writing prompts include: How has my life changed? What am I grateful for? Who have I come to admire? How have I changed? How have I adapted and created new ways to connect?
Kathryn Kuntz, supervisor of the library’s Richardson-Sloane Special Collections, says over the past 30 years there have been several oral history projects at the library, partnering with other groups. They include recorded oral histories with World War II veterans, other veterans, local women leaders, and “In Your Own Words” – aimed at the general public.
Last year, the library did an oral history on the Mississippi Valley Fair and the Iowa caucuses.
“We wanted to talk about the flood (of 2019), but it all got surpassed by Covid. So right now, we’re kind of at a standstill in collecting oral histories. We try and still get a couple in every once in a while, but since we can’t really meet in person, we’re trying to figure out more digital ways of doing that.”
For the new project, QC Life in the New Normal, the oral histories feature a library staffer interviewing people for an audio recording. And she says they’re open to anything – letters, essays, photos, or videos.
Starting in April, the library had two phases of a contest to ask people how they were feeling, coping, and how things changed during the pandemic. And it received some poems and reflections, including about health issues. In the first round, Kuntz says, 28 people submitted pieces. There were three prizes for that, including two student winners. The library gave out two $20 gift cards to the Book Rack and one from Crafted QC. The second phase had one winner, since there weren’t as many submissions.
The Davenport Library asked people submit a writing piece of at least 200-500 words about how they were coping. It created videos to help the community come up with ideas about what to write about and to learn more about this project, to collect history as it’s happening.
"We’re thinking about the 1918 pandemic of the flu; there were so many letters to and from people, articles about it in the newspaper, and personal accounts in journals and diaries, so we’re trying to get folks thinking about that, and how this is actually affecting our lives.”
Rachel Evans, Community Relations Manager for the Putnam Museum, says it's looking for “stories to help us preserve important moments in local history including what is occurring in our community during the Covid-19 pandemic, recent civil rights protests, and the derecho.
“Stories might include videos, images, written documents or 3-dimensional items and be about what you’re doing at home, challenges in the workplace, or plans as the new school year approaches. ”
The Putnam has received photos of celebrations and working from home, stories about other experiences, videos, and artifacts including home-made masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and more.
Kuntz says the “New Normal” project fits with the library’s mission to be a repository for community history.
“Many libraries across the nation, they’re trying to think of how we can best serve our community and be a resource of information for them. So this type of collecting and this type of programming, we can do programs with these materials or we can use these as examples for future writers and researchers on what people were thinking in 2020.”
To submit your thoughts, you can email the library at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Special Collections, 321 Main Street, Davenport, IA 52806. For the Putnam, visit the contemporary history project at Putnam.org.