Poignant 2020 (sask. style) exhibition at Museum

Stephanie Kaduck points to a display of hand sanitizer that was manufactured in Saskatchewan.

The current exhibition at the Swift Current Museum provides a local perspective on the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city and the various pastimes of residents while they were staying at home.

The title of the exhibition is Pandemic Pastimes and it features a large number of photographs taken by local residents of their activities during months of physical distancing.

Stephanie Kaduck, the museum’s education and public programs coordinator, said they had a specific goal with the creation of this exhibition.

“We wanted to create something that was mostly a lighter version of this whole pandemic,” she explained. “So we asked people to send photos of what they did when they were in quarantine, and with the exception of one, all of the photographs are happy. It's things that people found to do that made them happy and comfortable.”

There was a very good response to the photo contest and the museum received a variety of images that are on display in the exhibition.

“Now that people have a phone on their hip, they're taking pictures,” she said. “So they taught their kid how to paint an old school, and they take a picture. Dad goes online and learns how to make a rocking horse, so there's a picture of the kid on the rocking horse. And the kids are driving you crazy, so you send them outside to do yard work.”

There are images in the exhibition about family and individual activities at home or elsewhere in the community or region, including some unusual things such as creating home-made gym equipment or writing letters to towns to ask for lapel pins.

“We had a small prize for everybody whose photographs were put up, and we had a grand prize for the one that we considered told the story maybe best,” she said.

The grand prize was awarded to a set of four photographs showing how a family’s young child and new puppy bonded and grew larger together over several months.

For Kaduck the photographs clearly show how people were trying to do things during the pandemic that will make them happy.

“You have to step back from that and we still have to step back from that, because it's not going anywhere soon,” she said. “There's so much information and a lot of it is negative that you have to step back and find something that you can do that will occupy yourself and particularly if you have small children.”

Many of the images gives a sense that people were using their time of physical distancing to reconnect and it also illustrates their ingenuity to come up with ideas for new things to do.

A second important purpose of this exhibition is to serve as an early record or first draft of the history of the pandemic on a local level.

“The way the exhibition starts out is by giving the timeline of both Saskatchewan and Swift Current,” she said. “That information is important, because now we have it documented, and 100 years from now when somebody wants to do an exhibition, that information is not lost. Because 100 years from now they're going to be talking about it in a global sense or a national sense. They're not going to be talking about Swift Current. So this whole process allowed us to collect that information and collect photos that are relevant that will be in our archives for future generations.”

There are images of closed stores and other facilities in Swift Current, as well as measures taken by local business to comply with public health measures. Another section of the exhibition highlights the impact of the pandemic on business activities and other services, and the impact on people who were suddenly unemployed.

The pandemic created a large number of new words or expressions that are used to describe various activities related to this unusual time, such as flatten the curve, doomscrolling, or drivecation. The exhibition includes a section that highlights the new terminology that was introduced into everyday language.

“Caremongering was invented in Canada, and one of the main caremongerers we had was the Swift Current Pandemic Support Network,” she said. “They were a Facebook group and you could get reliable information and connections and how to get food and that kind of stuff. They originally thought they were just going to be dealing with getting food and necessities to people who were in isolation, but they ended up with over 4,000 members and they were asking questions about CERB and all that kind of stuff.”

The final section of the exhibition highlights how people responded to the pandemic through the use of memes on social media.

“When the pandemic started, I started to collect memes and just saved them on my iPad, because these jokes are very specific and topical and they have a timeline,” she said. “Hand washing was the very first one, but it was immediately followed by toilet paper, and the toilet paper ones were probably the funniest.”

The memes tended to be more lighthearted early on during the pandemic, but over time it started to become darker as people’s frustrations with the virus started to grow.

Kaduck will continue to collect information about the pandemic, but she is not sure if there will be a follow-up exhibition when the pandemic is over.

“I will keep my nose to the ground and see whether people can stomach it by then,” she said. “I'll certainly collect the information, but maybe I'll do it as a lunch and learn.”

She is unaware of any other museum that has already opened an exhibition about the pandemic, but many of them are collecting information about it.

“Part of the reason is that most museums take three years to put together an exhibition and I usually take three months,” she said. “I don't have to go through a board and all the different departments of the museum and get permission to use this and that. So I can pull things together more quickly, but certainly other museums are collecting.”

This exhibition will be on display at the Swift Current Museum until Jan. 15. Admission to the museum is free. Visitors are required to wear masks, sanitize their hands, and follow physical distancing protocols. There are directional markers on the floor to help people to physically distance while in the museum and during their walk through the exhibition.

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