133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
The year 2020 will long be remembered as the one when time just kind of stopped. Until a few short weeks ago, many Americans probably didn't know a pandemic from a panda. Now all that has changed. We wear masks to buy milk. We watch our kids go to school at the kitchen table. And we lie in bed at night and wonder just how we're going to survive if our job is gone for good.
It has been a year unlike any year any of us has ever known, and like it or not, history will never let us forget it.
So it is that the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM) has had to close its doors and lock away its art for some time now. And so it is that the folks who run the museum have come up with a brilliant idea. The museum staff is soliciting photographs for a virtual exhibit entitled The C19 Photo Project: A Time to Remember and A Time to Forget, an exhibit that aspires to capture the very essence of what Centre County life has been like since COVID-19 changed everything. Local residents, be they experienced photographers and total novices, are all being asked to submit up to 5 black and white or sepia photos that help chronicle the story of Centre County life during a global pandemic that we have all witnessed this past 6 weeks or so.
"I came up with the idea because I wanted to do something that would provide a way for folks to share what they are feeling and seeing," explains Patricia House, Executive Director of the Museum. "I wanted it to be something that would be both important in the moment as well as something to share in the next year or so, and, then keep as a record of what’s happened to us and our reactions to the crises. Future generations of our families will want to know what we thought and felt."
Think about the role art has played throughout history. Imagine how lessened our deeper understanding of anything that has ever happened would be if there were no paintings or writings or photos or poems to document the endless peaks and valleys mankind has known.
"We know art is a powerful inspiration helping us develop empathy, understanding and healing," the project's press release explains. "Many images of this tragic time are now shared by everyone in the moment. We want to collect those moments and share them with our community as a gallery exhibition. There will be moments we will always remember and feelings we will try to forget. It is all part of the tragedy and the healing. The exhibition will help us realize we are not alone."
It is a noble and important notion, too, this idea that art can unite us like little else. Throughout time, many of the greatest epochs in cultural creativity have been spurred on by disasters, wars, plagues, and horror. They don't call it 'The Dark Ages' for nothing, folks. And yet without those trying times, we'd never have Halloween to celebrate or Stephen King to read or Freddie Kruger to show up in our dreams. The ripple effects of art created during the most trying human times never stop.
These days we are living through will likely have a similar reverberating across the years to come. And what better way to document the shared experience of a people than by photographing it for ourselves and for posterity?
The rules of this project are simple and all-inclusive. Any local resident is urged to participate. Even your kids can snap shots and send them in. Closed stores, vacant public school lots, masked faces, the list of visuals goes on and on. Just remember: black and white or sepia only.
"In extreme times are emotions tend to be more obvious, we have little time to be guarded," reflects House. "We are requesting the works be sent in black and white because that is a better way to show emotions and reactions.
Local writers can play a part as well.
"In addition to the photography, verbal observations are welcome," the press release says. "These phrases and fragments of thought will add another dimension of our experiences. Please submit your comments electronically."
Next year, the museum hopes to include the best of the photo submissions in a gallery exhibit where we can all, fingers crossed, gather safely together to marvel at the work and reminisce about these strange scary times we all shared.
"We hope to raise enough funding to create a catalogue to accompany the exhibition," says House. "That would make it possible for folks to keep the work as remembrance and also pass it on in their family archives."
Until then the photos will be the subject of a virtual spotlight shared on the museum's website and social media pages. This is a truly unique opportunity to share what we have lived through… with our neighbors and the world. It promises to be a prime example of using art to communicate our pain, our uncertainty, and our hope all at once.
So take your camera with you when you head out for fresh air, to walk the dog or whatever. Use your cell phone to secretly snap a shot of the kids doing their homework in their pajamas with the YouTube in the background. Embrace your reality for the sake of this history unfolding in front of our faces and let your eye wander.
These are unprecedented times.
Maybe you can help document them forever.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Bellefonte Art Museum presents: The C19 Photo Project: A Time to Remember and A Time to Forget
Send images (no more than 5 per person, black and white or sepia only) and verbal observations to firstname.lastname@example.org
Include title of photograph, location of photograph and name of photographer.
While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.
*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. Learn more about the HVAB by visiting happyvalley.com.
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