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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Photo: Adria Malcolm/ NYT.
Lieutenant Colonel Susana Corona of the New Mexico National Guard worked as a substitute teacher in a third grade class in Estancia, New Mexico.

When things are bleak, it’s helpful to remember the advice that Fred Rogers’s mother gave him when he was small: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

On National Public Radio the other day Ari Shapiro interviewed a woman who had just escaped from Ukraine and came back to the border the next day to help people with translation. And yesterday I learned that Asakiyume — from her home in Massachusetts — was helping translators make their English sound more natural. Perhaps I can also help with that.

Many, many people have also stepped up during the pandemic to meet needs wherever they are. Consider this story about a National Guard lieutenant colonel filling in for an elementary school teacher in New Mexico.

Erica L. Green wrote at the New York Times, “The chorus of small voices ringing from a third grade classroom on a recent morning signaled how far Estancia Elementary School had come in resuming a sense of normalcy after the latest coronavirus surge.

“Students in this small, remote community were enthusiastically engaged in a vocabulary lesson, enunciating words with a ‘bossy r,’ as well as homophones and homonyms, and spelling them on white boards.

“But there was also a sign of how far the district, about an hour outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, still had to go. The teacher moving about the classroom and calling on students to use the words in a sentence was clad in camouflage. ‘My substitute is wearing gear,’ one student responded.

” ‘Yes,’ Lt. Col. Susana Corona replied, beaming. ‘The superintendent allows me to wear my uniform. I’m wearing a pair of boots.’

“[Dozens] of soldiers and airmen and women in the New Mexico National Guard have been deployed to classrooms throughout the state to help with crippling pandemic-related staff shortages. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also enlisted civilian state employees — herself included — to volunteer as substitute teachers. …

“The presence of New Mexico’s state militia — whose members are trained to help with floods, freezes and fires, as well as combat missions overseas — has largely been embraced by schools as a complicated but critical step toward recovery. Teachers have expressed gratitude for ‘extra bodies,’ as one put it.

Students were mostly unfazed but aware that, as Scarlett Tourville, a third grader in Corona’s class put it, ‘This is not normal.’

“Superintendents were given the choice of whether to have the guardsmen and women wear regular clothes or duty uniforms; most joined Cindy Sims, superintendent of the Estancia Municipal School District, in choosing the uniforms. ‘I wanted the kids to know she was here, to know why she was here,’ Sims said. ‘I wanted them to see strength and community.’ …

“ ‘Trying to have school at a time when everybody’s heart was broken was very difficult,’ Sims said. ‘Our mission is to keep hope alive, and the National Guard is helping us do that.’

“Corona, an intelligence officer in the New Mexico Guard … never envisioned that one of her missions would require being armed with a lesson plan, Wet-Naps and dry-erase markers. But nor did she envision watching her own fourth grader try to learn from a teacher through a screen last year.

“ ‘You always have to be ready when there’s a need,’ she said, ‘when there’s a call to service.’ …

“Coronavirus-related illnesses, quarantines and job-related stress have hit many districts hard. But the country’s education leaders say the pandemic is just accelerating trends that were at least a decade in the making. …

“ ‘Crisis is the word we have to use now,’ said Becky Pringle, the association’s president, describing the enlistment of the guard as a ‘stopgap.’ …

“At Belen High School, in a farming community less than an hour south of Albuquerque, the staffing crunch has been felt acutely. … Principal Eliseo Aguirre said he believed the death of a teacher from COVID-19 had a chilling effect on teacher and substitute applications.

“The arrival of Airman 1st Class Jennifer Marquez last month was a ‘blessing,’ Aguirre said. On a recent Wednesday, she was covering a Spanish class — her third subject in two weeks. …

“Veronica Pería, a freshman at Belen, was happy to see [her]. She said her grades suffered last semester when her teachers were absent and random staff members were popping in and out of her classes, leading to inconsistent instruction. ‘It’s better than watching a video or something,’ she said of having Marquez filling in. ‘It’s good to have someone I can go to and ask for help.’ …

“When the call came from the governor, the New Mexico National Guard’s commander-in-chief, Brig. Gen. Jamison Herrera, knew he would have no trouble recruiting volunteers for Operation Supporting Teachers and Families, or STAF.

“Many guardsmen and women had already seen how the pandemic affects students up close, having delivered meals to those at risk of going hungry when schools closed. …

“Although some members have advanced degrees or certifications that could translate to the classroom — a welder is teaching shop class in one district, for example — Herrera, a former teacher, impressed upon his team they were there to accomplish one goal.

“ ‘We are there to support the learning objectives of the teacher, because we certainly know we can’t fill their shoes,’ he said.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Federico Vespignani/Bloomberg.
The Standard of Saint Mark, the flag of the Venetian region, flies above gondolas. Venice is eager to attract young professionals who want to live in, not just visit, the city. 

I’m not sure how a floating city puts out the welcome mat, but this one is inviting young professionals to come and be part of its daily life. Just don’t try to recreate the culture of any other city there. As one resident says, “You do have to live by Venice’s rules.”

Catherine Bennett writes at Bloomberg’s City Lab, “From Karuna Clayton’s window, she can see a gondola bobbing in a Venetian canal and a simple white stone church on one side of a small campo, or city square. Normally there would also be a steady trickle of tourists walking below, but on a January afternoon amid the pandemic’s omicron wave, the square’s empty. 

“For the last nine months, this has been Clayton’s home and workspace. Formerly a commercial food photographer based in London, she now shares an apartment in Venice with her partner and two-year-old daughter, running a coaching business and teaching yoga alongside her photography.

“ ‘I’ve always called myself location-independent,’ she says. … Young, skilled and nomadic, the 35-year-old Clayton represents exactly the demographic that the new Venice-based project Venywhere is trying to attract.

“Launched in December 2021 by the Università Ca’ Foscari and the Fondazione di Venezia, a nonprofit group that protects Venice’s cultural heritage, Venywhere aim is to convince people who can do their jobs from anywhere to do so in Venice. …

“Inspired by the Tulsa Remote work program in the U.S. and a slew of similar efforts from around the world, leaders in the Italian city are eager to bring in young professionals who want to live and work there, not just vacation. …

“ ‘The pandemic has created a large population of highly skilled people who want to move,’ says Venywhere founder Massimo Warglien, a professor of management at the Università Ca’ Foscari. He believes that the pandemic’s disruptive impact on the world of work, from the ‘Great Resignation’ to a new breed of flexible and remote workers, could present a solution to Venice’s chronic brain drain. ‘This is a way of repopulating Venice,’ he says. …

“Unlike remote-worker programs in less-charismatic sites, Venywhere isn’t offering cash incentives to prospective residents. Instead, digital nomads who want to move to Venice will pay a one-time fee to get access to a concierge service that eases them into Venetian life: viewing apartments on their behalf, advising them on how to get a SIM card or access the health system, and even showing them where to shop. The platform promises to help newcomers navigate the city’s many eccentricities, connecting them with workspaces, language lessons and recreational amenities off the beaten tourist paths. …

“The latest population data shows that there are twice as many people in their 50s living in the historical center as there are people in their 20s. Sara Ajazi, a 26-year-old project manager at Venywhere, says that she was the only one of 300 students in her management class to stay and work in the city after graduating from the Università Ca’ Foscari.

For freshly minted graduates who don’t want to be gondoliers, tourist guides or waiters, building careers in Venice can be a challenge. …

“Could an injection of remote workers reverse this demographic trend? The Venywhere project is banking on a domino effect: If large firms send remote teams to the city, that will attract investment and, eventually, more startups who would hire the city’s graduates.

“But some people say it’s hard to see Venice transforming into an entrepreneurial hub or hot destination for remote workers anytime soon. ‘It’s not the easiest city to live in,’ says Riccardo Longobardi, a former Venice resident and the founder of the Digital Nomads in Italy Facebook group. ‘It’s very beautiful, but it’s a bit isolated. Digital nomads tend to look for places with a big nomad community.’

“Clayton agrees. ‘Venice isn’t set up for remote workers, unless you have a nice space to work in. There are almost no coworking spaces and it’s not a thing here to sit at a café for a few hours, getting coffee or lunch and working on your laptop. Lots of places don’t even have Wi-Fi.’

“Solving connectivity problems is one of the first things Venywhere plans to address, in part by creating a network of open-air Wi-Fi hotspots around the city. …

“To accommodate new workers, Venywhere proposes repurposing historic buildings, scattering workers across several sites. The economics campus of the Università Ca’ Foscari, where the team behind Venywhere works, is a perfect example of this: Sleek, white-painted coworking stations, student cafeterias and tutor rooms occupy mid-19th century brick buildings that used to be the municipal San Giobbe slaughterhouse.

“Alternatively, remote workers could hop on a vaporetto and head to Giudecca island, where the bare stone galleries and vaulted ceilings of former tanneries, mills and shipyard buildings in the Giudecca Art District are more often used to host art exhibitions during the Venice Biennale. Venywhere plans to use spaces like these, along with unused rooms in museums, artists’ studios that lie empty without an artist-in-residence, vacant hotel rooms and even restaurant tables between mealtimes as alternatives to the traditional rent-a-desk coworking set-up.

“ ‘This isn’t an expensive project because we are using what is already there. So many structures in the city are only half-used,’ says Warglien.

“The same can be said for the city’s rental housing during the pandemic. Living in Venice can be expensive: In the last few decades, efforts to build social housing have stalled as the region’s conservative politicians have chosen instead to turn residential lots over to the more lucrative tourist market, driving up prices in the city center. Venice has become increasingly unaffordable for Venetians, many of whom have migrated to terraferma, the mainland. The apartments that they left behind have been bought up by private companies for rent to tourists through platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com. Ocio, a local organization that investigates the city’s housing issues, has found that there are now as many beds for tourists in the city as there are for residents.” More at CityLab, here.

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Photo: Taylor Luck.
The near-empty Souk Chaouachine, or traditional chachiya hat market, one of many historic souks facing closure from a pandemic-induced recession in the Medina in Tunisia.

The list of pandemic effects just keeps growing. Today’s story addresses what happened after Covid kept tourists from the colorful small shops in Tunis. Just like workers in the US that have decided they need to join unions, Tunisian businesses are realizing there’s strength in numbers.

Taylor Luck reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “It takes one glance to tell all is not well in the Medina. The walled, historic old city of the Tunisian capital – once marked by bustling markets and streams of people hustling between the shops, homes, and government offices along its narrow streets and hidden passageways – is nearly empty. …

‘We are waiting for nothing,’ a chachiya hatmaker says as he shuffles boxed hats from one wall of his shop to the other. ‘We just show up for a few hours out of habit. No one is coming.’

“The Medina’s shuttered shops serve as a stern warning that the pandemic and a recession are threatening to undo the old city’s rich tapestry of families and artisans who have made it their home for centuries. But not, it appears, without a fight.

“Banding together for the first time, Medina business owners and families are trying to reintroduce the UNESCO World Heritage Site to Tunisians and the world, sharing its secrets and inviting people to take part in its history – and save its identity in the process.

“M’dinti, or ‘My Medina,’ the brainchild of Leila Ben Gacem, a social entrepreneur and advocate for Tunisia’s artisans, is an initiative that has united two dozen boutique hoteliers, artisans, and restaurant owners into an economic lobby to advocate for the old city and search for new ways of resilience.

“ ‘By ourselves, we cannot survive the pandemic’s effects,’ says Ms. Ben Gacem, who is also a Medina hotelier. ‘But together we can make changes to improve the Medina.’ …

“For seven centuries, hatmakers, cobblers, silver and goldsmiths, and tailors have occupied craft-specific streets – separate ecosystems within the maze-like Medina. But with no business, unable to afford monthly rent … many of these artisans are now packing it up. … In their place are popping up cafes, cigarette stands, betting outlets, and fast-food joints – their chrome and blue plastic storefronts incongruous with the World Heritage Site’s cobblestone streets and wrought-iron windows. …

“Silversmith Mohammed Sidomou, whose family’s shop has stood on the narrow street of the birket al-fidhah (pool of silver) market for a century, [describes] the pandemic as the ‘greatest challenge’ the Medina has seen in his four decades in business.

“ ‘We have been hit by a revolution, terrorism, instability, but there was always some economic activity to keep us going. With the pandemic, everyone is affected. … It breaks my heart to see the Medina turned into shuttered storefronts. It’s as if the Medina is losing its soul.’

“Compounding troubles are the pandemic-induced jump in international shipping costs, inflation, and the devaluation of the Tunisian dinar, making it logistically difficult or financially prohibitive for artisans to get the raw materials they crafted, pounded, and molded into Tunisian heritage crafts for centuries. …

“The economic downturn is also fraying a unique community of 20,000 people who live in the Medina, including working- and middle-class families and transplants from rural villages.

“Before, residents say, families, shop owners, and artisans supported one another during lean months and years. … Neighbors would loan a few dinars, share groceries, and cook for each other’s weddings. Shop owners and artisans whose businesses were flush would divert customers to other craftsmen they knew were facing a rough patch. …

“Says Mohamed Ali Dweiri, a 26-year-old Medina resident and hotel worker, ‘People have become more selfish; no one is helping each other. This is the biggest change to the Medina I have seen in my lifetime, and it’s sad.’

“Enter M’dinti.

“With no foreign tourism, the joint initiative’s first priority was finding ways to attract Tunisians to the Medina. …

“Since October 2021, M’dinti has hosted weekend activities for families, inviting Tunisians into the district’s historic homes and businesses for culinary classes and workshops with artisans – such as carpenters or cobblers – offering a glimpse into the centuries of knowledge of the maalam, or craft master. …

“ ‘Each activity is bringing 100 guests to the Medina. They are learning there are days’ worth of sights to see, they are appreciating the traditional crafts we fight to keep alive,’ says Mr. Ghorghor, the perfumer. ‘Word-of-mouth is our best hope.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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A girl photographs a bridge over the foggy Seekonk River.

What’s been hard about the most recent iteration of the pandemic is the feeling of going backwards. For a while, there was a sense of forward movement even though we were still taking some precautions. But with Omicron so transmissible, many of us chose isolation again.

It hit me right before Christmas when a friend stopped by. We both had had three vaccine shots and were used to being together without masks, but because I knew that some of her coworkers were not wearing masks, I decided we had better go back to masking when together. Sure enough, not long after that she caught Covid from a coworker. (Doing OK, thanks to the shots.)

Most of my photos reflect the grayness of this period. The view below of the Sudbury River was taken on New Year’s Day: outlook foggy.

I took a lot of snow photos, as you can see, but I’m also including a sunny one of the library’s brand-new children’s wing, several pictures from friends (Kim Gaffet’s snowy owl, a tiny island that Jean Devine’s students planted last summer), and scenes in Providence yesterday (the girl photographing a fogged-in bridge, an icy sandbox, a pond starting to melt). Sandra M. Kelly made the 2022 photo of snow in New Shoreham, where heavy snow is a rare event.

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Rent-a-Pub

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.
Brothers Craig and Matt Taylor built a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, dubbed the Wee Irish Pub. Want to rent it?

Journalist Steve Annear at the Boston Globe gets all the fun assignments. This report is about a perfect little Irish pub available for rent.

“At first, brothers Craig and Matt Taylor thought building a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, a traveling taproom they could rent for private events and parties, would just be a hobby — a pandemic project that would take their minds off the world’s problems and let people enjoy the familiar comforts of crowding into a bar (albeit a very small one) at a time when it had become almost impossible to do so.

“But within days of launching the ‘Wee Irish Pub’ in September, it became clear that the fireside chat-turned-business venture was going to be much more than a side gig. …

“ ‘The floodgates have opened,’ said Craig, 58. ‘We are getting requests [to rent it], at least two an hour, for the last week.’

“The idea to construct a tiny Irish pub, complete with a small bar, stools, bench seating, and many of the other features found in traditional venues of its kind, had been in the back of Craig’s mind for years, since he read about an inflatable Irish bar that people could rent for a day in their own backyard. …

“ ‘I had been talking about it sort of as a pipe dream that would never happen,’ said Craig, who works in marketing.

“But as the Reading residents found themselves spending a lot of time around a fire pit in Matt’s backyard early in the pandemic — one of the few activities that was still safe and allowed — the possibility surged to the forefront, like the head on a perfectly poured pint of Guinness.

“ ‘We’d talk about it night after night,’ said Matt, 49. ‘Finally it was like, “Alright, let’s just do this.”

‘It’s kind of the perfect pandemic project because people were having backyard get-togethers and staying outside.’

“Last February, after batting around the notion and discussing logistics, they decided to try their luck. They bought a large trailer for the tiny pub to be built on, so it could be towed from place-to-place upon request.

“When it was finally delivered in April, they got to work on construction, a joint effort bolstered by Matt — ‘an IT guy by trade’ with a penchant for carpentry.

“ ‘I’m definitely more about the overall impression and the ambiance,’ said Craig, who took a genealogical tour of Ireland in 2018 with his family, visiting the homeland of his wife’s ancestors. ‘Matt is precise to the micro inch on making sure that every rafter is exact.’ …

“They sourced materials from online marketplaces like Craigslist, and repurposed and recycled old furniture and other items to try and give it an authentic look and feel. Their siblings and other close family members pitched in considerably.

“Within months, the cozy pub had it all: A Sláinte sign graced one wall, under a weathered horseshoe. A framed map of Ireland hung above an electric fireplace. The small bar was installed, with a refrigerator and taps for kegs. A plaque dedicating the project to Craig’s late father-in-law — who was of Irish descent — went up behind the benches, forever holding a seat for him.

“The design of the cream-colored cottage is similar to mobile pubs built by the Irish-based company The Shebeen, which brought one of its units to Boston in 2015.

“The Wee Irish Pub, which can fit up to 12 people inside, finally rolled to its first event — a company gathering in Melrose — in September. It hasn’t slowed down since. …

“The company, officially dubbed ‘Tiny Pubs,’ is based in Reading. But the brothers will deliver the bar to people’s doorsteps up to 30 miles away (or more, depending on the situation). Rentals cost between $800 and $1,200 per day, with Craig and Matt arriving to help with the set-up in the afternoon and then whisking it away the following day. …

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.

“Most people are renting it to celebrate a milestone birthdays and retirement parties, the brothers said. But they recently received one call from a customer who has a terminally ill relative who had always wanted to visit Ireland, but no longer can.

“Instead, ‘they’re bringing the pub over to her in the driveway, to have a little taste of Ireland,’ Craig said. ‘It’s very sweet.’ More at the Globe, here.

I want to expand on the idea of bringing a bit of Ireland to a patient who can no longer travel. I remember when Animals as Intermediaries (now the Nature Connection) was founded in Massachusetts in 1983. It all started with asking an elderly, disabled woman what would cheer her up and receiving the answer, “Bring me the ocean.” The nonprofit’s founder was able to bring her a collection of items that really made her feel like she was near the ocean. Read about that early, perhaps better, version of virtual reality here.

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Photo: Mile Marker One.
Igloos at Mile Marker One restaurant in Ipswich, Mass.

Plenty of people I know are eating indoors at restaurants again, but I’m still too Covid-phobic. I want to support restaurants by doing takeout, but I am not going to take off a mask indoors unless I know that everyone in the building is triple vaccinated.

One innovation during the pandemic has been the tent for outdoor dining. Although some of those tents look too enclosed for your faithful hypochondriac, I thought it was interesting to read what Carolina A. Miranda had to say at the Los Angeles Times about their evolution.

She wrote, “Over the course of the last year, I’ve eaten enchiladas in a party tent. I’ve gotten COVID-tested in a party tent. I spent a night dancing to house music in a party tent. I’ve seen party tents double as retail shops, church naves, gymnasiums and outdoor living rooms. …

“Last year, as the pandemic isolated us into our respective domestic cocoons, designers took to their AutoCAD to imagine a brave new world of design ‘solutions’ for the pandemic. These included wearable head-to-thigh social distancing shields and space-age cones [But] we’ve learned infinitely more about how to rethink the design of our buildings from the pandemic’s most prominent workhorse: the party tent. …

“It can be staked into soil or anchored on pavement. The simplest models, a standard canopy, can shield you from the sun; more protective ones come with collapsible walls that can be adapted to the weather as needed. …

“The party tent is symbolic of all the other improvised architectures that have arisen during the pandemic: the parking lots turned into eating spaces with twinkle lights and umbrellas; the wooden dining platforms crafted out of plywood and two-by-fours; the izakaya on La Brea whose collapsible walls are actually transparent shower curtains. In Echo Park, Misty Mansouri, the owner of the Lady Byrd Café, has turned an impractical triangle of concrete on her property into an al fresco dining room courtesy of an ebullient agglomeration of Christmas trees and portable greenhouses employed as individual dining pods.

“Temporary structures can even be found in hyper-glam iterations — like the space-age, vented dining pod at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills. A 6,500-square-foot modular dining room constructed in the middle of Canon Drive, it was created by VX Design Solutions, a custom fabrication studio, and Choura, an event production company, and was assembled in less than a week. That structure opened in March 2021 and is still going strong. ‘We fill it up every single day,’ says Steve Scott Springer, the restaurant’s general manager.

“Party tents may not be around for the long haul, but they have qualities that are worth integrating into the hardscape of our cities. They offer flexibility and permeability and serve as a reminder that in the mild Southern California climate we don’t always need to encase ourselves in hermetically sealed cells of HVAC. If well-building design issues such as fresh air and sunlight had been gaining currency before the pandemic, COVID-19 and its many variants have made it a matter of urgency.

“ ‘Being able to kick open the doors makes people who are inside those doors feel so much better,’ says architect Oonagh Ryan, founding principal of ORA, an L.A.-based studio that has worked extensively in the commercial and hospitality sectors. ‘And operable windows, those are key.’

“One of ORA’s most recent projects is the design of Agnes, a popular Pasadena comfort food outpost that also contains a cheese shop. Housed in a 1920s stable once employed by the Pasadena fire department, the bulk of the restaurant’s design was conceived before COVID, but a number of programmatic choices made since the pandemic began have helped make the space more resilient.

“The key is flexibility. The street-facing side has operable windows and the rear of the dining room has sliding doors that can be propped open to connect with a patio out back, drawing fresh air through the building. A private dining room likewise opens to the elements. The patio, which harbors additional seating, is protected by a weatherproof canopy that can be pulled back when the weather is mild. It’s an outdoor space that can be used come rain or come shine. And the furniture isn’t fixed, so it can be reconfigured into different densities. …

“When the restaurant opened in June, the surge of COVID-19 infections had tapered off and indoor dining had resumed. But the pandemic made the coming months wildly uncertain, meaning that the design needed to be responsive to shifting health directives. ‘If the pandemic was still going strong,’ Ryan says, ‘we had a plan for how we could rearrange everything into more retail.’ ”

“If the pandemic was still going strong.” Is it? Who knows?

You get several free articles at the LA Times, here, if you’re not a subscriber. I think you will enjoy the variety of party tents in the photos.

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Illustration: Shivani Javeri.
Many artists in India donated their work to fundraisers such as the Fearless Immunity art sale to help others during the height of the pandemic.

You can trust artists to come through when there’s a need for empathy. They are often sensitive enough — perhaps wounded enough — to feel someone else’s pain and want to do something about it.

For example, as Rohini Kejriwal reports at Hyperallergic, India’s creative community became a beacon of hope during Covid-19, using their talents to raise money for vulnerable populations.

“In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. …

“From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

“Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. … Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

“Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

“Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

“A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

“India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

“Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

“Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Slum2School.
Slum2School volunteers in Nigeria come from all walks of life and help coordinate enrichment activities for children.

One precept that the pandemic underscored for us all is that children need to be in school. We know how hard the year was for American children who couldn’t go in person, but just imagine what it was like for kids in a poor Nigerian neighborhood with no computers! In fact, the children in today’s article are lucky to have school at all. An idealistic young Nigerian man made it happen.

Shola Lawal writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “It was one of the few times Otto Orondaam was ever tempted to quit.

“The year was 2012 and Mr. Orondaam’s passion project, Slum2School, was off to a bumpy start. Here in Makoko, a low-income neighborhood on the Lagos Lagoon, many fishing families need children to stay home and help with their trade. His brand-new nonprofit aimed to get those kids into school, and for weeks, he’d planned an event, hounding a medical company for mosquito nets to hand out as an incentive.

“But just minutes before, the company called – it could not deliver the nets.

“ ‘I cried horribly,’ the young reformer recalls, laughing, sitting in a well-lit office and sporting a deep-blue turtleneck. ‘The parents were waiting and this was going to be the highlight of the event, the only thing they could take home, but there were no nets. It was a heartbreaking moment for me.’

“But Mr. Orondaam’s upbeat personality soon took over. He quickly called up friends, asking for donations. Two hours later, he zoomed in and out of a market, purchasing and distributing 200 mosquito nets – and ended up enrolling 114 children in existing public primary and high schools that the organization partnered with.

“Fast-forward to 2021, and Slum2School says it has directly sponsored almost 2,000 children. Many are still from Makoko – including Hamdalat Hussein’s grandson, Abdulmalik.

‘What Slum2School is doing for us here is good,’ she says in the local Yoruba language. … ‘I am praying to see him become somebody after he finishes school.’

“Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF – around one-third – although primary education is free and compulsory. Learning during pandemic shutdowns has been especially challenging, since only around half the population has internet access. … When the pandemic struck, Slum2School launched a virtual class for high schoolers, after distributing hundreds of tablets.

“ ‘I was able to teach myself graphics design and many things like how to make logos and flyers,’ says Habeebat Olatunde. Her siblings had skipped around her, fascinated, as she joined hundreds of children in class from their home in Iwaya, another low-income neighborhood bordering Makoko. Now in her final year of high school, Habeebat says she wants to be a human rights lawyer and fight for vulnerable teenage girls. …

“On a recent afternoon, Mr. Orondaam sat in Slum2School’s headquarters in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos, with outer walls shaped like colorful crayons. He flicked through old photos and chuckled at one of himself, thin and sunburned – one of the first times he went to Makoko, standing beside smiling parents holding nets, with the neighborhood’s wooden shacks as a backdrop.

“Growing up in Port Harcourt, a city in southern Nigeria, Mr. Orondaam studied to be a doctor but pivoted to social work, influenced by his parents. His father was the first doctor from his village and would offer free services. His mother was basically ‘everyone’s mother,’ he says. ‘Our classmates would not have sandals, and my mum would come and take yours and give them. The things I picked up from that was devotion to service, serving with your heart.’ …

“He first encountered Makoko through a documentary. … He felt compelled to visit while completing his National Youth Service Corps in Lagos – a mandatory one-year program for Nigerian university graduates.

“ ‘It was the first time I was seeing that kind of community,’ Mr. Orondaam remembers. ‘There were kids there who had never been in school and had no plans to go. I loved the energy. I knew they were happy, but I thought, “You can be happier with education; if you have an education, you can make better choices.” ‘

“He resigned from his stifling bank job and started weekly visits to Makoko, updating friends via a blog. When he came up with the idea to send 100 children to school, they supported him.” 

Read what happened next at CSM, here.

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Photo: Jörg Gläscher via DesignBoom.
A photographer built nine massive waves of deadwood in a forest near Hamburg, Germany.

A few years ago, I blogged about seeing Patrick Dougherty’s giant stick sculptures in Salem, Mass. He was getting a lot of attention at the time, and I studied up on him at the Smithsonian.

So I was reminded of Dougherty and the beautiful possibilities of sticks when John sent me a link to an article at This Is Colossal. The German photographer Jörg Gläscher, or @joerg_glaescher on Instagram, is the artist. (Colossal was tipped off to the story at This Isn’t Happiness.)

Grace Ebert reported, “As the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 swept through Germany in the fall of 2020, photographer and artist Jörg Gläscher decided to channel his own worry into a project that felt similarly vast and domineering. ‘I was working (with the idea of) the pure power of nature, the all-destroying force, which brings one of the richest countries in the world to a completely still stand,’ he tells Colossal. …

“Between November 2020 and March 2021, Gläscher spent his days in a secluded location near Hamburg, where he gathered deadwood and constructed nine massive crests — the largest of which spans four meters high and nine meters wide — that overwhelm the forest floor in undulating layers of branches and twigs. Each iteration, which he photographed and then promptly destroyed in order to reuse the materials, overwhelms the existing landscape with pools of the formerly thriving matter.

“Gläscher’s installations are part of a larger diaristic project he began at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, he published a few magazines to present the works that range from photography to sculpture in one place. … Find more of his multi-media projects on his site and Instagram.” Great photos here.

I like thinking about an artist pursuing a project suggesting tidal waves when, like him, we were all isolating ourselves from the tidal wave of Covid. There is something intriguing about his taking the waves apart and reconstructing them in different forms. Doesn’t coronavirus do that, too?

The Covid Art Museum on Instagram was and still is an artistic response to the pandemic. And considering that the pandemic wave hasn’t yet crested worldwide, I’m sure we’ll be seeing other, Covid-inspired artworks — not to mention, more art from sticks.

As Patrick Dougherty has said, “A stick is an imaginative object. … I think we have a kind of shadow life of our hunting and gathering past, especially in our childhood play. Because a stick — a piece of wood — is an object that has an incredible amount of vibration for us.”

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Photo: Yenvy Pham.
The owners of a Seattle Vietnamese restaurant, Phở Bắc, came up with the idea of a “Pho Now” cup and a “Pho Later” meal kit during the pandemic. “Survival mode is in our blood,” says Yenvy Pham.

I like to have a pipeline of possible articles in case I draw a blank some morning. But after Covid changed so much, it seemed like a good idea to check whether last year’s stories were still relevant. So I did a search on the restaurant in today’s article and found that the Covid innovations described here really worked.

In June 2020, Ashley Nguyen wrote at the Lily that Seattle’s Phở Bắc pivoted fast. “On March 13, Yenvy Pham went to New York City to celebrate the grand opening of her friend’s new Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Social. But as the coronavirus spread, Helen Nguyen — Saigon Social’s chef and owner — decided to cancel.

“By the time Pham flew home to Seattle on March 16, Washington Gov. Jay [Inslee] had ordered restaurants and bars to cease in-person dining. Pham and her siblings, who own and operate several restaurants called Phở Bắc in Seattle, saw sales plummet. … They instituted new safety precautions, made sure their employees had masks and gloves and started pivoting.

“Phở Bắc’s namesake dish is not something people typically order to-go, Pham said. To appeal to their customers, the Pham siblings introduced a ‘Pho Now’ cup that people could eat while sitting on a nearby curb, on their walk home, or in the car. They also began selling a ‘Pho Later’ meal kit, complete with broth, separately wrapped ingredients and assembly instructions. The restaurant started delivering orders using an old parking enforcement vehicle dubbed the ‘Pho Mobile.’

“As it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Pham and her siblings had to start making tough decisions. They closed two of their four Phở Bắc locations, and they were forced to reduce staff. … But if any of Phở Bắc’s current or former employees need something, the restaurant owners try to help: ‘My restaurant dynamic is very Vietnamese,’ Pham said. ‘It’s very practical. If [workers] need money, help [or] loans, we just kind of do what we can.’

“Operating multiple restaurants during a pandemic isn’t easy, but ‘survival mode is in our blood,’ Pham explained. Her parents, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham, opened the first Phở Bắc location in 1982, a year after they came to the United States. Ultimately, Theresa and Augustine created a nourishing landmark in Seattle’s Little Saigon: The restaurant takes the shape of a red boat.

“Yenvy Pham and her Phở Bắc partners, siblings Khoa and Quynh-Vy, are dedicated to supporting fellow business owners in Little Saigon as economic fallout from the pandemic persists.

‘It’s my neighborhood, my Little Saigon,’ Pham said. ‘For me, business comes and goes, but the vibe of the neighborhood is so important, and so are the characters here. You’ve got to take care of your own people.’

“They recently donated $5,000 in proceeds from the Pho Mobile to the International Community Health Services clinic, where their sister works as a primary care doctor, and a small business relief fund for business owners in the Chinatown International District. …

“The siblings are also collaborating with other business owners. They added Hood Famous Bakeshop’s mini Filipino-flavored cheesecakes to their menu. Pham let Mangosteen — a traveling Texas-style barbecue joint from chef Thai Ha — take over one of their closed locations to sell brisket and wings with specialty sauces for pickup.

“The pandemic has given people more time to take stock of what’s important, Pham said in late April.

“ ‘I like the world stopping for a second to reassess our morality and get us out of this state of complacency,’ she said. ‘We’re doing powerful thinking about each other, ourselves, about the world. … We’re being more creative too and helping each other out,’ Pham added. …

“Despite the unknowns, Pham is confident that everything will work out. In her family, ‘we either fix it, we take care of it, we accept it, or we move onto something else.’ ”

More at the Lily, here.

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Photo: Zack’s Cafe via ABC3340.
At Zack’s Cafe in Miami, Oklahoma, receipts for pre-paid meals hang on the wall. Zack’s Cafe is among several local restaurants that enabled neighbors to help one another out during the pandemic.

Often in the past there has been restaurant outreach to hungry people who can’t afford a restaurant. I’ve covered a few instances at this blog. But there’s nothing like a pandemic to enable such efforts to really take off. An Oklahoma town, for example, found there was no shortage of customers who would donate meals so others less fortunate could eat.

Last month, Cathy Free wrote at the Washington Post, “In a growing number of restaurants in Oklahoma, the walls are decorated with hanging receipts. Anyone can walk in, pull down a receipt and order a meal free of charge. The receipts are put there by customers who prepay for food and tack them to the wall, leaving them on offer for anyone who is hungry.

“Since early February, restaurants in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma — in towns like Miami, Grove and Vinita — encourage people who are short on cash to pick up a prepaid meal receipt and enjoy everything from three-egg omelets to chicken-fried steak, no tips expected, no questions asked.

‘Maybe if we can show people what it’s like to take care of your neighbor during a time of need, it will spread throughout the United States,’ said Bless Parker, 51, the volunteer mayor of Miami (pronounced my-am-uh). ‘We want to bring back the old hometown values that I saw when I was growing up here as a kid.’

“During the historic Arctic blast earlier this year, Parker helped homeless people get into church shelters, and around that time he and others decided they needed to do something to help people who were having a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, a former mining town with a population of about 13,000.

“Sandye Williams, an assistant manager at the Miami Walmart, said she remembered a story she had seen in 2019 about a restaurant in Arkansas where customers had bought meals in advance for those in need and posted the receipts on the wall for anyone to pick up.

“On Feb. 3, Williams tagged Dawg House restaurant owner Jennifer White in a post about the story, saying, ‘Look at this. I would pay for a meal once a week.’ …

“ ‘I loved the idea and thought I’d give it a try,’ said White, 28. ‘I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not.’

“When White posted a sign near the entrance inviting her customers to buy $10 meal receipts and post them on the cafe’s giving wall, word spread quickly in Miami, she said. …

“Hours after Parker’s receipt went up the wall, another local restaurant, Zack’s Cafe, decided to get on board with the idea. And a few days later, Montana Mike’s Steakhouse joined in. …

“The giving wall concept soon spread to surrounding towns, including Vinita, which has a population of 5,423, where Beth Hilburn runs the Hi-Way Cafe on historic Route 66.

“Hilburn, 52, said she invited her customers to buy something extra from the menu such as a slice of pie or a cheeseburger, then post their contribution beneath a sign she printed: ‘If you are hungry or know someone who is … these tickets have been paid for in advance by previous customers. Please grab a ticket and eat!’ …

“The restaurants’ Facebook pages have been flooded with comments about the giving walls from local customers and out-of-towners alike. ‘One of the main reasons I love our small town!’ a Miami resident commented on the Zack’s Cafe page. …

“Some of the free meal recipients have returned to put a meal ticket on the wall to help somebody else once they’re able to, Perry said. She estimates that more than 300 free meals have been ordered at Zack’s. …

“At Montana Mike’s, general manager Jennifer Highton said she recently took a phone call from a man in Chicago who wanted to purchase several meals and add them to the wall.

“ ‘He’s never been here and doesn’t know anything about us, but he loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it,’ said Highton.”

More at the Washington Post.

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Photo: Matthew Genge, Imperial College London.
The simulation of the Scottish countryside for an online geology class included buildings, walls, and gravestones.

Although it always seemed likely I would turn out to be an English major, I did have to choose a science in college. My mother thought it was charming that the geology class had the same two professors from the time she was there. She recommended the course. And a few people said geology would be easier than the other sciences. Ha! They were wrong about that! But I learned as much as I could, if not very well, and to this day I can tell you if your dorm is made of Wissahickon Schist.

If I thought geology was hard back then, what would it have been like this past year? At Atlas Obscura, Robin George Andrews reports on the challenges of teaching it online during the pandemic.

“If you decide to pursue a degree in geology,” Andrews notes, “be prepared to spend some time in the wilderness, where you will be asked to find and analyze rocks that will help teach you how the planet works. You will sketch curious outcrops, smash stone to pieces, peer at crystals through a hand lens, and, every now and then, even lick rocks, if it comes to that, all under the watchful, judging eye of your instructors.

“When the pandemic kicked into gear back in March 2020, these both scintillating and stressful field schools were no more. Geology instructors across the world were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Many understandably concluded that there was no way to replicate this hands-on learning experience and just made do, but Matthew Genge, a planetary scientist at Imperial College London (ICL), had an epiphany.

“By happenstance, he had taken up the hobby of video game design a decade earlier. ‘It’s pure problem solving,’ he says. ‘You get that achievement buzz when you make something work or overcome some challenge.’

“One of his colleagues, fellow ICL geoscientist Mark Sutton, had also been dabbling in the same digital sandbox. So they decided to put their skills to pedagogical use:

They built video game versions of the field trips their undergraduate students would normally go on, where they could practice the same techniques and learn about the planet in the same way they would in the real world.

“It started with a 3D replica of Sardinia (and Mt. Etna on Sicily), where students galivanted about, looking for ancient fossils, prodding volcanic rocks, and exploring an abandoned silver mine. But like in all good video games, things escalated quickly. Before long, students were piloting spaceships, fending off hostile fighters, and trying to find a good place to land on an asteroid (to study its chemistry). …

“Back in 2019, Sutton had brought a drone to Sardinia — one of the usual field trip locations — and took a bunch of photographs of the places they were visiting to learn geology. A year later, Genge used those photographs, along with some bespoke computer code, to whip up a virtual version of the study area.

“In the (real) field, the objective would be to examine a location, study it scientifically, pose a research question, and then attempt to answer it. The same scenario played out in the virtual world Genge and Sutton created.

“For example, an area that was once a lake, 330 million years ago, is now jam-packed with plant and animal fossils. There are even ancient traces of rain, which made little indentations that have been naturally preserved. Some of these impressions are elongated in one direction, which can be used to estimate wind speed. A student might find these rain prints, examine them in high resolution, and then write something about how they might be used to understand what Earth’s atmosphere was like back then.

“The students were engaged, and the quality of their work was similar to what the instructors had seen in previous field seasons. ‘Two of the projects were close to being publishable,’ says Genge.”

More details (including how the video game meant the study of meteorites could become a space adventure) at Atlas Obscura, here.

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These are real New Yorker covers, but for a laugh (or a tear), check out fake pandemic covers created for an art class, here.

In New York, an art teacher’s creative idea in the pandemic was to make magazine covers in the style of the New Yorker magazine. The next thing the students knew, their work had gone viral on social media.

Michael Cavna writes at the Washington Post, “A masked woman pauses to perch between two worlds: the Zoom-room confines of her virtual life this past year, and the real physical realm of a post-pandemic future. As her classmates spring across a laptop keyboard, the emotional moment resonates, a split-second frozen in art.

“Its creator, Lauren Van Stone, a New York college student originally from Connecticut, rendered the work to empathize with anyone else enduring virtual learning. ‘I felt inspired to illustrate a piece that focused on the tentative reopening of schools,’ she says, ‘and the mixed feelings that many students will inevitably have upon re-entering society.’

“Van Stone created the artwork for her third-year illustration class taught this semester by Tomer Hanuka [@tropical_toxic on Twitter] at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Hanuka had asked his students to create moving-past-the-pandemic works in the style of a New Yorker magazine cover — and was so impressed with the finished pieces that he shared some of them last week on Twitter.

“Soon, the virtual world was as moved by the students’ art as Hanuka was. Within a few days, the first tweet in the viral thread of 17 works attracted more than 130,000 likes and more than 30,000 retweets. Nearly 60,000 liked Dou Hong’s poignant image of two figures on a park bench: One is of a woman, the other an outline filled with names of covid victims. …

“Hanuka, a veteran illustrator who has contributed covers to the New Yorker, was shocked by the public response. … He had merely sought to give the student artworks some exposure beyond the classroom. But his timing couldn’t have been better: As millions of Americans are vaccinated daily amid cultural debates over evolving social and medical protocol, the art reflects the year we’re emerging from — and where we hope soon to be. …

“The assignment was to analyze the storytelling mechanisms within ‘classic’ New Yorker covers and create original ideas using some of that visual vocabulary.

‘It’s about observing a seemingly mundane detail that, by the way it’s presented, illuminates a bigger story,’ says Hanuka. …

“Amy Young, who’s originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, created a powerful cover showing a family around the table with the deceased matriarch missing, her living husband and their wall picture bathed in the lavender tint of loss. Existing alongside the buoyant hope of vaccination, she says, is the ‘grief, sorrow and perhaps even bitterness experienced by those whose loved ones have already passed away. I wanted to show that duality of emotions in my cover, and how they can find co-existence in a family.’ …

“Katrina Catacutan, from Baltimore, drew a reunion with her significant other, in a home brimming with her collection of pandemic plants that evolved to include ‘propagating cacti’ and various vegetables.

“Once their works were posted on Twitter, the students were stunned by the impassioned response. ‘It really showed me just how powerful art is, in the way it can connect countless people from across the world over one shared feeling or image,’ says Jane McIlvaine of New York, who depicted a cat watching its formerly locked-down owner exit their home. …

“As for their teacher, he is not only wowed by the outcome, but also by how his young artists have persevered academically during the pandemic. Some of them hold day jobs, and some have been cut off from their families for a year. Yet, Hanuka says, ‘They had the emotional bandwidth to gather for four hours a week — and that’s just my class — to discuss color choices and compositions with all the gravity and focus these topics demand. … They were asked to find logic in the chaos — to make sense of it, by way of beauty. They practiced their craft rigorously and showed up.’ ”

See the covers at the Washington Post.

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Photo: Anna Chojnicka via Republic World.
She bruises bananas to make art.

Connie Chang has such a funny and inspiring tale at the Washington Post! You’re going to love this one!

“Anna Chojnicka was bored as she quarantined last year in her London apartment because of a suspected case of covid-19. She was so bored that she absent-mindedly picked up a banana on her kitchen table and started running her fork along the outside of the peel.

“The dark lines that appeared on the peel looked interesting to her, and she watched as the marks gradually got darker. She continued doodling and was soon fascinated. She drew eyes, a nose and a mouth and — satisfied with how it looked — decided to see how far she could go with it. …

“Chojnicka, 35, started making pictures that were more and more intricate using the same method — only pressure, no paint — until she sketched an Ethiopian coffee pot and cup. Her new hobby was born. …

“Since that first day she figured out what she can do by bruising a banana peel, Chojnicka has been posting her daily creations on Twitter and Instagram, where she has thousands of followers. … She inspects her daily sketch, takes a photo and then eats the banana — she doesn’t like waste.

“Her popular banana art ranges from familiar cartoons such as Homer Simpson (which she cheekily labeled ‘self portrait’) to painstakingly rendered portraits of people such as Greta Thunberg. She does puns, like a zipper around a partially peeled banana. She is often inspired by current events, such as the coronavirus vaccine drive. She recently made one with the slogan ‘Empowered women empower women,’ nestled in a yin-yang of two women in profile.

“ ‘Bananas have a really beautiful way of going from yellow to black by way of gold, orange, and brown,’ said Chojnicka, who liked art as a child but hadn’t practiced it much as an adult until last year. …

“Her art comes to life by oxidization. Just like apples, bananas oxidize, or turn brown, as the enzymes in their cells are released and interact with the oxygen in the air. Cells that are damaged — because they’ve been poked with a fork or dropped on the floor — brown faster. By varying when she applied the marks, Chojnicka discovered that she could create a palette of shades, resulting in surprisingly intricate pictures.

‘I saw an opportunity to put it to some good,’ said Chojnicka, whose day job is working for a company that supports local businesses focused on social or environmental issues.

“With the help of her social media followers, she has raised about $1,600 for FareShare, a charity in the United Kingdom that provides food to people in need. Admirers, moved or just amused by Chojnicka’s art, have donated to the organization through the fundraising site JustGiving.

“Once she realized her fruity art had a following, she decided to branch out into other causes close to her heart. She helped bring attention to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which aims to address the country’s energy shortage. She felt close to that project, she said, because she worked in Ethiopia for four years and said the dam ‘has the potential to lift people out of poverty.’ …

“Among her most popular pieces was a banana she made in February scrawled with the word ‘banana’ in different languages. ‘What language(s) do you speak? Do you see your language here?’ she asked in a caption on the post. Responses flooded in from all over the world: Brazil, the United States, South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

“The post ended up ‘sparking separate conversations between people around the commonalities in their languages,’ Chojnicka said. …

“Chojnicka said she realizes that bruising a banana to make a sketch isn’t everyone’s thing. But for anyone who might want to give it a try, she has a few tips.”

The tips are fascinating. For example, she shows how to get different shades of brown by waiting different periods of time. Learn more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP.
Gardening gurus Jim and Cindy Kaufmann met when they both worked at the National Gallery. Today they work in separate government jobs to brighten Washington, DC, with 300 acres of landscaping and flowers.

Have you ever thought about how the beautiful flowers appear in public places like the US capital — and what it takes to keep them beautiful, even in a pandemic?

Cari Shane reports at the Washington Post reports about a married couple who are responsible for more than 300 acres of the the Washington, DC, landscape.

“Cindy Kaufmann, 56, is chief of horticulture services at the National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden. Her husband, Jim Kaufmann, 48, is the director of the Capitol grounds and arboretum for the Architect of the Capitol, which maintains the buildings, monuments and gardens on the U.S. Capitol campus. He also chooses the National Christmas Tree. …

“They call themselves ‘garden geeks’: Jim is ‘a tree guy,’ he says. (His favorite is the white oak.) Cindy loves pink flowering plants the most. ‘But it’s like having children,’ she says. ‘You really just love them all.’

Cindy grew up in Rockville, Md., where she spent hours in the garden, ‘growing flowers and vegetables just to see how they would look,’ she says.

“After studying horticulture at the University of Maryland, she started at the National Gallery right out of college. Jim grew up in Philadelphia, helping his parents take care of their vegetable garden. He attended a public vocational-technical high school that specialized in agriculture, then graduated from Temple University with a degree in horticulture. They met when they both worked at the National Gallery. …

“Cindy’s pre-pandemic life meant arriving at the office at 6 a.m. and ‘walking five miles every day, visiting the campus and directing the wide variety of areas we support from the Sculpture Garden — the greenhouses, the garden courts, terraces and every exhibit and interior space,’ she says.

“Now, like for many of us, her work is done mostly over Zoom. The National Gallery closed and reopened a few times over the past year; each time, Cindy had to be ready, constantly ‘planning for normal.’ The museum’s March anniversary is celebrated annually with a rotating display of 250 azaleas in the Rotunda, and Cindy and her staff spent the winter preparing the plants to transfer from greenhouses in Frederick, Md., but the museum didn’t reopen after all. (The Sculpture Garden reopened in February.)

“For Jim, the pandemic and the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol — which was followed by the erecting of non-scalable fencing — meant some pivoting, too.

“He and his team continue to care for more than 4,500 trees and all the flowering plants on 274 acres of Capitol landscape. …

“Like Cindy, Jim’s days this past year have been less hands-on, which he misses. ‘Nothing ever replaces the ability or the experience to walk the grounds, feel the landscape and talk to people,’ he says.

“But the pandemic has allowed the Kaufmanns to spend more time in their own garden in Silver Spring, Md. Last summer, tending it was their ‘pandemic therapy,’ says Cindy. It reflects their different horticultural styles, and over the years, the yard has naturally divided into ‘Cindy’ and ‘Jim’ sections.’ “

More at the Washington Post, here.

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