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Constance Alexander: COVID ‘artifacts’ document collective uncertainty during pandemic

All over the world, museums ache with emptiness. Curators long to hear the echoes of visitor footsteps and yearn for the bustle and chatter of gallery guides and tour groups. The Smithsonian, the Getty, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston are shuttered, while those that are welcoming guests operate within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, according to Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors.

As of August 24, museums in New York are open with restrictions, including a maximum of 25 percent capacity and timed tickets to keep occupancy under control. The Kentucky History Center in Frankfort has returned to their regular Tuesday-Saturday schedule for exhibitions and is in the process of a phased reopening of the rest of their campus, composed of the History Center, the Old State Capitol, and the Kentucky Military History Museum.

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In western Kentucky, the National Quilt Museum in Paducah welcomes visitors, as do the Janice Mason Art Museum in Cadiz and Wickliffe Mounds, by the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In Hopkinsville, the Pennyroyal Area Museum is open by appointment, while some of the other museums and arts centers in the region operate on limited schedules, and others are closed until further notice.

In an effort to remind the public of the important role museums play in the cultural life of a community, some are seeking artifacts that document the pandemic. “History is Happening Now” is the tagline for a campaign to collect Corona artifacts by Seattle’s Highline Heritage Museum. Currently, they are seeking photos, diaries, essays, letters, posters, videos, community announcements, and student assignments for their COVID collection.

A recent New York Times article chronicled similar efforts to document the collective uncertainty that prevails as the country confronts Covid-19.

That got me thinking.

One apparently permanent (no pun intended) effect the pandemic has had on me is that my hair has turned curly. Usually quite short and straight, it started growing in March. Without the benefit of my usual schedule of haircuts, as it got longer, it went rogue.

We’re not talking a wave here and there; it is downright curly. My mother would have loved it, and if I were still in Kindergarten, envious of Kay Williamson’s lavish baloney curls, I would too.

When I finally got a haircut in June, the stylist freaked out. Same thing happened in July and now August. The change seems permanent and inexplicable.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Looking for answers, I consulted the Free Dictionary of Idioms to discover, “If something makes your hair curl, it makes you very shocked or worried.”

Seeing the definition made me realize that the pandemic, though not shocking, was worrisome. Since March, when we started wearing masks and staying home as much as possible, anxiety has stalked me.

Like never before, the vulnerability that comes with age is on my mind. The awareness is not only about me but also about friends and relatives. Besides that, we have no family here and I am the sole caregiver for my spouse. At times I wake up at 3 a.m. and I wonder what would happen if one of us got sick.

I come from a big family with sisters, nieces, and nephews living all over the country. My stepsons and their families live in California and Australia. It rattles me to realize that I do not know when, or if, I will see them in person again.

Besides those things, a dear friend of mine recently died from COVID, and several other friends and one of my nieces are battling cancer. There can be no visits, no hugs, no sitting by the bedside offering quiet conversation and moral support.

Reflecting on those realities, no wonder they curled my hair. So my artifact for the COVID Museum would be a lock of my hair. And now that we’re on the same wavelength, what’s yours?

For an article about how museums are likely to tell the story of the coronavirus, visit www.dw.com.

The New York Times article is online at www.nytimes.com.

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