Documenting life during COVID-19

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Documenting life during COVID-19

We’re fortunate here in Kingston that our city is a place where cultural venues, historic sites, museums, theatres, makers and creatives activate our community and invigorate our daily lives. It’s what makes Kingston a great place to live and it also makes it an attractive place to visit and to do business.  In the days and weeks since our Country, Province and City declared states of emergency in response to COVID-19 we have seen so much of what we take for granted close down in an attempt to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and to “flatten the curve”.

These measures are necessary and are working well here in Kingston as Dr. Kieran Moore recently shared with City Council at its meeting on April 21, 2020.  We’re lucky people are responding as needed during these unprecedented times and its remarkable how the community is stepping up to help in different ways as well as to recognize the efforts of our frontline workers whose work is so indispensable.  We are witnessing history in the making and it’s important we remember what’s happening for future reference.

In this moment, museums across Canada are actively documenting what life is like during COVID-19.  Examples of these efforts were explored in a recent article published online through the CBC website.  It poses the question “How do you record the history of a pandemic while you’re busy living through it?”  Museums have already begun to source items that will help them interpret in years to come what it was like to live through COVID-19.  It is especially interesting because it is a rare event that is having a global impact but with especially meaningful things happening at a local level. 

Here in Kingston, the PumpHouse Museum was meant to open on April 3, 2020 with a new exhibition called Collecting Histories.  The exhibition as originally planned was meant to explore the role objects and artifacts play in engaging and inspiring us to learn about local history.  Through this exhibition the plan was to share a selection of historical, archival, archaeological and artistic works that form what we refer to as the Civic Collection.  The show was also meant to look at the challenges and opportunities we face in building a collection that represents the many facets of our community experience in an inclusive way.

Obviously, things have not gone as planned and the PumpHouse Museum, like many cultural sites across Kingston, will not be opening anytime soon.  In response, staff are moving the Collecting Histories exhibition online and are asking Kingston residents to participate using the City of Kingston’s Get Involved platform.  In the coming weeks a series of engagement opportunities will be launched that will ask the community questions like “What objects do we need to collect?”, “What stories do we need to document?” and  “How can we work together to shape what future generations will remember?”.   The Get Involved platform will be used in different ways to gather stories, capture ideas and foster discussion about what’s happening.  We will also be looking to work with the community to create a time capsule as a record of this moment and the site will be updated over time with new collection activities, information from the Collecting Histories exhibition and collection initiatives from our community partners.

This promises to provide an interesting opportunity to be part of making history in a local context and we look forward to receiving your input regarding what is most important, including objects that should be saved and stories that should be shared.  At the same time, it’s still possible to continue to visit sites like the PumpHouse Museum online and to access educational resources to use with your families.  The same is true of other sites across the city and we encourage you to check out #ygkmuseumfromhome for more online opportunities as we continue to stay home and stay safe.



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Colin Wiginton
Colin Wiginton
Cultural director

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