Cultural Quarantine

Recording the effects of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shutdown on four Lehigh Valley cultural institutions.

On January 9, 2020, the World Health Organization announced an outbreak of a mysterious flu in Wuhan, China. By January 21, 2020, the United States confirmed its first case of a new coronavirus in Washington State. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced on March 6 that COVID-19 (as it was now called) had reached Pennsylvania. Less than one week later on March 12, the Lehigh Valley recorded its first positive coronavirus case in Northampton County. Our community ground to a halt.

March felt like taking a bullet in slow motion…

– Kate Racculia, August 12, 2020

In response, the Museum and Library Alliance of the Greater Lehigh Valley (MLA), supported by the Lehigh Valley Engaged Humanities Consortium (LVEHC), saw a crucial need to document how this global catastrophe would impact its peer institutions–many of whom were already struggling for financial and human resources long before 2020. In an effort to archive the shared humanity of the moment, MLA invited local organizations to document the effects of COVID-19 on their organizations. Ultimately, MLA invited four of those institutions to chronicle their experiences in-depth, both professionally and personally, over the course of fifteen months

– New York Times headline, April 29, 2020

 New York Times headline, April 14, 2020

It’s hard to justify the arts, culture, and history when we’ve got frontline workers that need help. And local small businesses and restaurants that are struggling.

– Susan Ellis, December 10th, 2020

When this project began, interviewers believed that they would be documenting a historical moment writ large, a pandemic experienced in its totality. However, as the crisis wore on, what was instead documented were the distinct, real-time experiences of four Lehigh Valley cultural institutions, the people within them, and the interviewers themselves.

The interviews were conducted by Jean Bemesderfer, formerly Assistant Curator of the Sigal Museum of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society; Susan Falciani Maldonado, Special Collections & Archives Librarian at Muhlenberg College; and Brittany Merriam, formerly the Senior Curator of the Sigal Museum of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. This website was created by Tony Dalton, Digital Cultures Technologist at Muhlenberg College, and Susan Falciani Maldonado. 

This project was sponsored in part by the Lehigh Valley Engaged Humanities Consortium, with generous support provided by a grant to Lafayette College from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by Muhlenberg College.