While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the Parrish Art Museum to shut its doors for the time being, the Water Mill-based Museum has found creative ways to engage with the community.
The Parrish’s latest project, Artist Stories From the Pandemic, provides insight from East End artists – including April Gornik, John Torreano, peter campus, and many more – about life and creating during COVID-19.
We caught up with Corinne Erni, Parrish Senior Curator of ArtsReach and Special Projects, to learn more:
How did Artist Stories From the Pandemic come to be?
CE: I felt that we are living in a very specific area. There is a very specific artists community that we serve, that we engage with all the time. And I felt like as a museum in that area, we had a responsibility to reach out to these artists to check in, but also to create an archive about this very specific moment in time. This is an unheard of moment in time, we haven’t had this since the Spanish flu. Our team discussed what we could do and I had seen other institutions doing similar projects. But, not so much with their artists community. I just felt like I wanted to bring that together – the idea of having artists talk about this moment, but also very specifically East End artists. It creates sort of a geographic map. For example, the films which we are going to start rolling out tomorrow [Wednesday, June 10], they have the artists’ name, but also their locations where they are. I think that’s a nice way to really place them in this area.
How did you decide which artists to reach out to?
CE: Amongst all of our colleagues in the curatorial department and education, we just put together a list of about 170 artists that we knew of, that we have somehow had an interaction with, through any of our exhibition programs or other public programs, but also just artists that we knew of.
How many ended up participating in the project?
CE: So far, we have received 40 videos. Like I said, we reached out to 170 artists. If we left someone out that we should really be engaging with, hopefully other artists will talk to them, let them know, so that they reach out to us as well. We want to be very inclusive and create a very comprehensive picture.
How long do you anticipate continuing the program?
CE: I would think throughout the summer and basically as long as we receive submissions. That might go into early fall, but I believe that probably most artists who want to participate are. I think there will be a time when this kind of ends. We are reopening, there is other news now that is taking over that is also important. It is a specific moment that we’re trying to highlight.
Are there any specific topics that artists were asked to focus on in the videos?
CE: Artists, as you know, they like to be quiet and work for themselves, most of them. In some aspects, not that much has changed in their life except for obvious anxieties and canceled shows. They talk about that. But, what I find is that artists, they either found inspiration from these anxieties. So, something has happened to their work – either it’s changed in forms or color or themes. Some of them have become darker or they’ve tried different materials, different mediums. Also, they have gone back to earlier ideas that they were never able to develop. Now, with this additional time, they just started to develop or went back to all the projects that they hadn’t had time to develop. That I found really interesting.
Many of them find solace in nature, like, I think, all of us. Others have engaged with verities, they try to connect with local community groups to be of service to teach art making online. That idea of being part of a wider community as well.
Was there a consensus among artists about creating work during this period?
CE: No, I found their responses are very varied. Some of them just continue to work. Others are really much more affected by the immediate anxieties or others are just trying to see something positive. I think it’s really varied. That’s what I find interesting. It’s really creating a mosaic of our communities.
In terms of rolling out the videos, how will that work?
CE: We’re starting to roll them out tomorrow [Wednesday, June 10]. We are actually uploading them on the website, as we manage to finish editing them, but we’re rolling them out on social media three videos at a time. So, we’re starting tomorrow and that will be Wednesdays and Saturdays from now on over the next few weeks.
What else does the Parrish have planned for the upcoming weeks and months?
CE: We do our Friday Nights Live talks. We found that our community really, really enjoys that and I think it’s an important way to stay connected. We’ve had 150/200 people tune in – and also internationally. That’s been a great success. This Friday [June 12], I’m going to talk with Tomashi Jackson, who is our platform artist for this year. She created a really amazing project, which we started talking about that almost a year ago. It’s really exploring the experiences of communities of color in the East End, so Latin American communities, black communities and indigenous communities. She has interviewed members of the community and historians and activists from these communities back in January. We’re launching a series of talks this Friday, it’s just going to be me and her. Then we will do more talks with these community leaders that she has interviewed previously. She will talk more about the project, which obviously was supposed to be an exhibition this summer, but it can’t happen. There will be many other aspects of that project until we can actually show the work, probably next summer.
The following week, we’ll have a talk by our adjunct curator David Pagel who was involved in the exhibition, Telling Stories, which is now an online exhibition. He will talk with one of the featured artists, Mary McCleary. I’m really excited about that as well. Then we will see. It’s kind of a day by day and also looking at when can we safely reopen? When can we do something outdoors? We’re just not ready yet to talk about that, but it will be a full and fun summer for sure.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
CE: I I feel like it’s really important that the Parrish is now here for its community, as a legacy but, also with what’s going on right now and to be a hub to bring people together.
For more information on the Parrish Art Museum, visit parrishart.org.