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Frazier Museum Pivots From Preserving History To Documenting It

Coronavirus Capsule artwork by Caitlin Foley.
Courtesy Caitlin Foley/Frazier History Museum
Coronavirus Capsule artwork by Caitlin Foley.

The Frazier History Museum’s Coronavirus Capsule project has collected a cache of coronavirus-era items. Already, there are hundreds of items, such as pictures of nearly empty highways, deeply personal essays and video diaries in what is a virtual time capsule ofthis unprecedented crisis.

That includes Lincoln Elementary student Lara Nunez describing how her parents disinfect their clothes when they get home from work.

“My mom and my dad have a night shift, so they usually come in through this door," Nunez says in the video as she shifts the camera to the door. "And they put this alcohol on their clothes, well first they take them off, and then they put it on their clothes and put them in these bags.”

Credit: Frazier History Museum YouTube

There’s also art, from an artist drawing healthcare workers as superheroes to illustrations from young artists to a video of Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams playing with the orchestra’s concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz — a white line divides the screen, highlighting the musicians’ physical separation.

Frazier President and CEO Andrew Treinen said their initial reaction to the pandemic was to find ways to share their collections online, developing the Frazier Virtual Museum

“But, this COVID-19 situation is new to all of us,” Treinen said. “And we thought, while we’re presenting this virtual museum, why not capture it as it's happening because people are having these feelings and these expressions, and they need an opportunity to get them out.” 

The museum partnered with Jefferson County Public Schools, and University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections came on board eventually as a collaborator as well. 

Rachel Platt, Frazier’s director of community engagement, said the capsule has evolved from just a documentation project. 

“I think it's been cathartic for kids,” Platt said. “And I think it's been an entry point for parents to have communication and to talk about it because sometimes those conversations don't happen without a prompt.” 

To illustrate her point, she referenced a submission they received, art from a five-year-old “who drew what the scary virus looked [like] to her.” The sketch is of a dark blob with a dozen or so tentacles.

Treinen thinks the Coronavirus Capsule has had an effect on the museum’s employees as well. 

“It has kept our staff engaged in the process, and I think made them feel like they have something to offer in this difficult time,” he said.

The capsule also has Platt thinking about how the pandemic will shape everyone’s lives even when the threat of the crisis diminishes. 

“We're going to look back at this and go, ‘Oh boy, these were huge pivot points for us, like before 9/11 and after 9/11, life changed,” Platt said.

The collection is available online now, and later the museum will host a physical exhibition, displaying journals, artwork and other collected items from this moment in history.

“So now that we've gotten it all virtually, we'll start the collection process of getting some of that in our hands,” Treinen said. “It's everything from written word to poetry to photography to artwork to songs, you name it, we've gotten it.” 

And then, he said, all the items will be stored for safekeeping at the U of L so that future generations can learn about how the coronavirus pandemic changed life in Louisville.