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Diverse voices help craft museum exhibit on coronavirus impacts

The Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology at Chico State turns to community leaders and educators to gather input for an upcoming exhibit

Posted: Sep 22, 2020 8:59 AM

CHICO, Calif. -- Curators with Chico State's Museum of Anthropology recently invited educators and civic leaders for a panel to gather input for an upcoming exhibit.

Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough was asked to moderate the online session.

Participants discussed how social, health and economic impacts of the coronavirus are impacting diverse groups.

The goal of the so-called ‘think-tank’ was to gather input from different voices in order to create more inclusive museum narratives for exhibits.

The website for the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology describes its mission this way: ‘to promote respect and appreciation for human diversity through our exhibits.’

To that end, the concept of a community-based panel of voices; including civic leaders and educators, to discuss how the coronavirus is impacting different segments of the population.

Dr. Will Nitzky, with Chico State University’s Department of Anthropology, says the concept came about, during the planning stages for crafting an exhibit on how the coronavirus pandemic is unfolding. Those planning for an upcoming exhibit also wanted to broaden the scope of how the pandemic might have long-term impacts.

“We wanted to focus more broadly on pandemics and epidemics and looking at racism itself, as a pandemic,” explains Dr. Nitzky.

To get a better idea of how different communities and individuals are ‘feeling’ the pandemic, curators pulled together a diverse group of community leaders and educators. Participants were asked about the challenges they are seeing among families and students they serve.

Group members met for two hours during a recent ZOOM session. The responses focused a great deal on how socio-economic factors are perhaps the largest drivers in how various groups are adapting to the pandemic.

Mike Allen, Principal of Chapman Elementary School says he is witnessing impacts to his students.

“The learning loss we see is growing and the divide between the
Socio-economic status between students is just expanding, more and more every day that we are in this situation."

Elementary school teacher Mary Schoenthaler instructs students at Shasta Elementary. She says students are missing out on the social interactions necessary for growth.

"I see kids who would love to socialize and be in school. Not all of them have the same socio-economic or mentoring from family and parents as other children."

Some panel members said it is not just younger students feeling impacts and believe the pandemic is shining a light broader issues that have long term consequences, such as technological connectivity.

Interim Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at Chico State University, Tracy Butts says access to internet, is a major challenge across the region.

“It’s not just about the people who don't have financial access, but our region doesn't have the infrastructure to support the kinds of work we need to do on the internet,” says Butts.

Panelist Kimberly Cobb has experience working with the Valene L. Smith Museum as a student curator. She now lives and works in Southern California. She says she is seeing the issue of mental health and stress increasingly coming into play.

"People are a becoming a little edgy with each other; it's the stress,” explains Cobb. “So I’ve started some workshops and journaling programs within the museum."

Michael Lo is a civil leader within the Hmong community. He says cultural and language barriers are intensifying the impacts of the coronavirus for many.

“Our community has been hit hard,” says Lo. “It’s hard because many of those trying to help our children don’t speak the language. I try to reach out to every leader of local clans so we can inform them of what they should know for the pandemic. But it is difficult.”

Adrienne Scott, the curator for the Valene L. Smith Museum says it is becoming more important for museums to include more people and various voices in the decision-making process for exhibits.

“The old model is that a museum curator knows everything,” says Scott. “We are trying to throw that out the window and bring more people in.”

Some of the other issues participants say they are seeing is that those already struggling with mental health are having a tough time. Many also said they are seeing more parents who are not computer savvy who are now struggling with online education for their children.

The virtual exhibit is planned for January of next year.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 898799

Reported Deaths: 17305
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