The art projects of more than 30 Southern Arizona community members reflecting life during the pandemic have been placed in a specially curated online exhibit through the University of Arizona’s Special Collections archives.
The projects are a part of the UA’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry’s “PandemiDiarios” program, which allows community members to document their pandemic-related experiences through art.
The 16 winners of the 2020 “PandemiDiarios” program and the 21 winners of the 2021 “PandemiDiarios on the Border” program created written works, photographs, short films, murals and more representing life during the pandemic. The 2021 program focused on life during the pandemic, specifically in the U.S.-Mexico region.
Since the program started in 2020, the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry has provided over $10,000 in microgrants to the selected participants through the Fronteridades program in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“During the peak of the pandemic, there was a national conversation among humanities and arts organizations regarding the incentives or the opportunities to make sure that people not only in the academic community but also in our communities had access to small pockets of funding to make sense out of the pandemic, out of their experiences,” said Javier Duran, the director of the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry. “And so we took that idea and applied it locally and we created a small grant program called PandemiDiarios, which is really this account of the daily life of people and how they are coping with the pandemic.”
The PandemiDiarios participants include 15 local community members, 13 UA students and five UA employees, according to their website.
One of the 2021 winners includes Ruben Urrea Moreno, a local muralist and a senior exhibit preparator at the Arizona State Museum.
Moreno’s art project titled, "On the inside looking out," is a large portable mural made from recycled billboard banners featuring a saguaro cactus adorned with wildlife native to the U.S.-Mexico region.
The piece represents “the proliferation of Sonoran Desert animals inhabiting new spaces while people stay home,” according to the PandemiDiarios website.
“I turned this saguaro into like the sanctuary of our home,” he said. “And the top of the saguaro was like a cage. And it was perfect because the saguaro already has lines like the cage, and I kind of felt like everybody was kind of trapped at home. And then above the saguaro was this skull symbol and that's like the coronavirus looming over our head, but inside, we're safe. And then we have our pets and we have our music, and outside, we're witnessing all these animals kind of have free rein of the world.”
Moreno chose to work with large banners because of their portability, making it easier to place the mural around various places across the city, most recently on the side of La Estrella Bakery on South 12th Avenue and West Nebraska Street.
“I can go put it up somewhere around town and I can even move it around, you know, I can like, instantly beautify a neighborhood that needs a little bit of beautification,” Moreno said. “And the main reason I decided to do it this way is because when you're working a full-time schedule, it's really hard to go to a job site and set up and then paint and then tear down and come back home.”
Moreno says he was “surprised and honored” when he found out that his work would be digitally archived in the UA’s special collections.
“I never even thought of anything on my own being digitally archived,” he said. “But it makes total sense (to digitally archive) because of the direction our world is going. I looked at the projects that are being archived and the variety of them is just so beautiful. And to be a part of the group of artists and the whole process of what they did with the PandemiDiarios, it was pretty special.”
While the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry focuses on the arts, humanities and social sciences through the sponsorship of interdisciplinary projects, Duran says one of the most significant components of the center is community engagement and how to get our diverse community involved in those projects.
Although it’s hard to say if the center could continue this program next year given the unpredictability of COVID-19, Duran says he is open to having a post-pandemic project in the future where people document lessons learned throughout the pandemic.
“I think it's an opportunity to really showcase our diversity and the diversity of voices and also a creative incentive in a time in which a lot of people feel really, really left out of things,” Duran said. “We are a very resilient community and creative and that creative energy is manifested in many different ways. The PandemiDiarios are a great example of how our Tucson and Southern Arizona communities were really, really not only coping, but trying to succeed in a moment of despair.”
For more information about the PandemiDiarios program or to check out the digital archive, visit their website.