The School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York is documenting the art its students, alumni and staff have produced during the coronavirus pandemic with its Covid Collection initiative, which aims to build an ongoing archive of works created since the public health crisis hit the city in mid-March.
Beth Kleber, the SVA’s head of archives, says she began the project as a “therapeutic filter” for the community and has received more than 300 submissions from nearly 200 artists to date, mostly from current or former students but also from faculty members like Stephen Savage, an illustrator for the New York Times and other publications.
“When SVA shut down, I started monitoring discussions around archive collections in various academic institutions who had the same impulse that I did to capture this moment,” Kleber says. “As an art school, it seems like the most natural way of encapsulating the experience of artists and documenting how a global crisis manifests in their work.”
Kleber says still-lifes of food and household objects are a recurring theme, but that works range in focus from the mundane and listless aspects of lockdown—like in a series of drawings by Carly Larsson of city scenes captured from the vantage point of her fire escape in Brooklyn—to incensed political critiques around the Trump administration’s xenophobia and mishandling of the coronavirus, seen in works like Emma Joy Sian-E Chin’s End Ignorance (2020). Others depict tender familial moments, like Tiffany Alfonseca’s intimate black-and-white drawings of herself and her family quarantining in the Bronx.
As the SVA prepares for its fall semester, which will operate on a hybrid model with an online and in-person curriculum, the archive is still open for submissions. “There’s still a long road to go until things feel ‘normal’ again,” Kleber says, “In the meantime, creation is more important than ever.”