Artists Responding to the Coronavirus

June 1 – December 27, 2020

The mentality of the nation shifted during the week of March 13, 2020. That week, the respiratory illness, COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, went from being something concerning to something alarming as the United States declared a national state of emergency. If we weren’t seeing things differently already (doorknobs, handshakes, water fountains, etc.), we did then.

The South Bend Museum of Art closed its doors due to the pandemic on March 16. At the same time, doors were shutting all across the country to help prevent the spread of the virus. Stay-at-home orders were issued by governors and people began to wait. 

During this time SBMA staff discussed many strategies for furthering the museum’s mission virtually. The idea for Making A Way — SBMA’s first online exhibition — grew from these conversations. We saw it as an opportunity to assist artists through exposure to their work while also presenting the public with an art experience from within the safety of their homes. Most importantly, we wanted to share the stories of artists — how the Coronavirus and imposed restrictions had affected their lives and their work. In the end, we hoped the exhibition would also be a way to connect people through visual art as expressions of a shared experience during a time when what is safest is to stay apart from one another. 

We received 191 submissions to our call for entries from artists throughout the country and the SBMA’s Exhibitions Committee began the task of reviewing the materials. A key component of each submission was a brief statement about how the artist had been affected by the pandemic. We found ourselves deeply moved by these snapshots of hardship and perseverance. Every submission was equally important in this regard. We discussed including all submissions, but decided to pursue our original stated goal of a curated exhibition for clarity’s sake. This would also differentiate the results from something as relatively random as searching hashtags on Instagram (i.e. #artinthetimeofcorona, #covidart or #artinisolation). In the end, we selected 48 submissions representing the work of 50 artists and collaborative projects.

We did not begin the jurying process with any preconception of how the exhibition would be organized. We wanted the submissions themselves to guide us. Through the review process, different themes became apparent within the artists’ statements. These became 7 broad categories and artists were organically ordered amongst them. While imperfect — and with a lot of overlap and blurred boundaries between them — they represent the experience of artists at this time. 

When the free call for entries for Making A Way was publicly announced on April 1, 2020, there were 52 confirmed cases of the virus in St. Joseph County, Indiana (where the South Bend Museum of Art is located). The United States as a whole had already surpassed Italy and China combined, with 189,618 confirmed cases. By the opening of the exhibition on June 1, there are 1,274 confirmed cases in St. Joseph County, and over 1.77 million in the United States. And on May 27, the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths caused by the virus. Federal restrictions expired on April 30, so every state has a different self-imposed timeline for the relaxation of their own restrictions. Most states have begun to loosen their restrictions on stay-at-home orders and social gatherings, and encouraging businesses to reopen their doors to the public. But with the reopening comes anxiety of the unknown over what effect this will have. Making A Way responds to this specific and difficult period of time.

As of the opening of Making A Way, we can’t see the forest because we’re still amongst the trees. We don’t know how the Coronavirus will change the way we live. Or what final toll it will claim. But that is the point of this exhibition. Not to give answers, but to become a record of the moment — while we are still inside the forest. There are innumerable unknowns, and it is a strange state of being where we, together with the artists of Making A Way, find ourselves. These are historic times and this exhibition will remain on SBMA’s website as a historical document created in the moment.  

As this exhibition is not bound to a physical space or ordinary logistics, it will release episodically, beginning with TOGETHER on June 1.

Please note that Making A Way is best explored via tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

TOGETHER  |  June 1
Artists working collaboratively during isolation
Featuring artists: Diana Baumbach, Seamus Carey, Jonah Criswell, Andrew Elsten, Stacey Holloway, Melissa Huang & Drew Tetz, Chenyu Lin, and Eric Souther & Andrew Deutsch

ADAPTATION |  June 8
Artists adapting to the loss of their regular work space, equipment or materials
Featuring artists: Andranik Aroutiounian, Pat Brentano, Rachel Burgess, Jennifer Celio, Joe Karlovec, Ken Reker, Shawn Rowe, and Amy Schissel

SOLACE  |  June 15
Artists finding quiet solace in the making of work while in isolation
Featuring artists: Fern T. Apfel, Laurén Brady, Daniel Kukla, Laurel Lueders, Richard Nickel, Jennifer Printz, Leviticus Shand, and William Tourtillotte

FREEDOM  |  June 22
Artists appreciating a freedom from deadlines
Featuring artists: Ling-lin Ku, Jonathan Pellitteri, David Sparks, and Torina Stark

INTERRUPTION  |  June 29
Artists coping with the effect of the pandemic on academia
Featuring artists: Jessica Dehen, Marley Foster, Hannah Nielsen, Alyssa Reiser Prince, and Claire Whitehurst

PERSPECTIVE  |  July 6
Existing work by artists now has added meaning
Featuring artists: Kamari Carter, Natalie Christensen, Skye Gilkerson, Chloe Ilene, and Stacy Isenbarger

TRANSLATION  |  July 13
Artists making new work directly related to the pandemic
Featuring artists: Linda Bond, Kathy Bruce, Dee Hood, Saskia Krafft, Nathan Margoni, Lake Roberson Newton, TJ Norris, Iviva Olenick, Mandy Cano Villalobos

Special thanks to all of the artists who contributed to this exhibition.

All images, videos and voice recordings are the property of the artists.

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