While many people are hoping to forget 2020, local museum curators are preparing to remember it and document the ways the COVID-19 pandemic, a year of social unrest and shifting societal norms affected the residents of Juneau.
“Museums reflect history and cultural events,” said Niko Sanguinetti, curator of collections and exhibits at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. “The COVID-19 pandemic will likely be a defining event for this generation.”
She noted that people don’t usually notice they are living through historic times, as hindsight provides the context. But, when the pandemic began in March, Sanguinetti and her colleagues started discussing the best way to collect history in the making.
So far, the staff has collected a handful of Juneau-specific items, including the hunker-down postcard sent out by the City and Borough of Juneau last March, samples of the signs that appeared around town to promote mask-wearing and testing, and a hospital screening bracelet from Bartlett Regional Hospital.
“We’d love to get one of the Tyvek suits that were produced in town, a test kit and a vaccine,” Sanguinetti said describing her wish list for a future exhibit.
Contributions from Local Artists
Because CBJ allocated federal COVID-19 relief funds to local artists, the museum will have pandemic-based art to display.
Artwork includes a collection of Chilkat woven masks by Lily Hope, a bentwood box by Abel Ryan and a postcard series called COVID secrets, from artist Larisa Manewal.
The postcards, which will be displayed in a book, include stories from 54 Juneanites who were invited to share a secret on a postcard created by Manewal.
“This has been a really interesting time,” said Sanguinetti. “We had this massive pandemic and we had a whole year of changing social norms.”
She noted that the artistic works represent the questions of identity, heritage and place that people grappled with during 2020 and encourages everyone to write down their personal experiences of the last year.
“I guarantee it will be interesting to future generations,” she said.
“When the pandemic started, we immediately looked back to the 1918 pandemic. Other than newspaper articles, there wasn’t a lot written about the experience in Juneau, especially as it relates to the Alaska Native population” she added.
While there are no immediate plans for a 2020-related exhibit, Sanguinetti hopes to see one in the next few years.
“There’s an ongoing question of when is the right time to do something on history when you are still living it,” she said.