Several posters have appeared in Philadelphia’s Center City, featuring black and white photography of Black and Latino people, with text:
“Stay Home. Wash your hands. Cover your face.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll hold hands again.”
“Un poco de distancia hace mucho.” (“A little distance means a lot.”)
They were created by the fine art photographer Carrie Mae Weems, as part of her nationwide campaign Resist Covid Take 6! In April, she began compiling a series of images suitable for reproduction as posters, billboards, buttons, and bags that encourage people to comply with public health guidelines to reduce the risk of infection.
Weems ramped up the public art concept when the pandemic began showing signs it was disproportionately impacting Black people. The University of the Arts wanted to bring her message to Philadelphia.
“They are both trying to get people to do proper recommended procedures during COVID, and also issues of race have bumped into this in lots of different ways,” UArts President David Yager said of Weems posters.
He points to the one reading “Don’t worry, we’ll hold hands again.”
“Artists have the ability to make statements that socially bring people together, rather than separate them out,” he said.
Philadelphia is not the first city to adopt the “Resist Covid Take 6!” campaign. (“Take 6” refers to the six feet recommended for social distancing.) The posters have appeared in such places as New York, Atlanta, Savannah, Miami, Nashville, Dallas and Chicago.
Weems’ concept is to make the project scalable to each location.
“Every city is different, which is why we put together a selection of materials — including lawn signs, billboards, wheat paste posters, buttons, masks, magnets, tote bags, and shopping bags,” said Weems in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “Each city can then decide what they actually need and how they can best serve their communities.”
Yager reached out to Weems months ago to be the Philadelphia sponsor of the project. In August, the University of the Arts put up a half dozen street posters at its properties, including Hamilton Hall at its Broad Street campus, the Arts Bank at South Street, and at the Art Alliance near Rittenhouse Square, where there is also an outdoor video projection.
Yager is hoping other entities in the city will leverage the UArts exhibition and sponsor their own iterations of the campaign.
“Our concept was, can we get a corporation to sponsor a billboard and pay more for the billboard than it actually is?” he said. “Then take the differential money and put it into a poorer community, and have [the corporation pay to] print buttons or bags [for them]. The idea was try to spend money and raise money for communities that can’t afford the project.”
The hope is that by printing messages on grocery bags, buttons and other smaller items could reach people who would never see the billboards.
Yager is also hoping to forge a tighter relationship with Weems, one of the most influential contemporary artists in America. He would like to reopen the Art Alliance next spring with an exhibition of her work (the gallery is currently closed for renovations) and invite her to deliver a commencement speech at next year’s UArts graduation ceremony.
That all depends on the future of the pandemic. For now, Yager is arranging a Zoom event with Weems for UArts students, hoping to schedule that for October.
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