PSU website offers creative outlet

Oil on canvas with paper and pencil, titled “Common Denominator,” created by Penn State College of Medicine student Zena Saleh.

UNIVERSITY PARK — As millions shelter in place at home due to COVID-19, many are turning to art to pass the time, relieve stress or spark joy — either as consumers or artists themselves. Penn State has launched a new project called “Viral Imaginations: COVID-19” to give all Pennsylvanians a venue to display their artistic reflections on the pandemic.

“Viral Imaginations allows people to share their creative expressions on the hardships, illness, loss, grief and healing associated with the COVID-19 pandemic through a forum that’s dedicated to contemplations about this personally and historically defining moment,” said Michele Mekel, assistant director of Penn State’s Bioethics Program and the project’s co-principal investigator.

The publicly accessible Viral Imaginations website includes online galleries of creative writing and visual art. Additionally, the project team said the site will serve as an archive and virtual time capsule to help document the impact of modern pandemics on individuals and communities.

“The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 was largely forgotten until a historian brought renewed attention to it in the late 1980s,” said Bernice Hausman, chair of the Department of Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. “Now we search for materials to understand that experience. In creating ‘Viral Imaginations: COVID-19,’ we are trying to create an archive of our present pandemic so that future students of history will have creative responses to it that have been collected as the pandemic unfolded.”

Mekel said current or former Pennsylvania residents — including students — can submit both visual and written artworks created in response to their lived experience of the coronavirus pandemic, via the Viral Imaginations submission form. Artists can provide their name and biographical information or stay anonymous. Current featured artworks include paintings, photographs, jewelry and poetry.

“Viral Imaginations: COVID-19” is a collaboration of multiple Penn State programs, colleges and departments.

It is funded by a grant from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.


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