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Resist COVID / Take 6! harnesses public art for public health

Portland Art Museum teams with local public agencies and community partners to share artist Carrie Mae Weems’s messages of COVID-19 impact, equity, and hope.

On the walls and windows of the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center, and on billboards all over town, a prominent artist’s messages are harnessing public art to protect public health.

Launched in Portland in December, Resist COVID / Take 6! is an artist-driven public awareness campaign by internationally renowned artist and Portland native Carrie Mae Weems. Since April 2020, this national campaign has sought to draw attention to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. The title Take 6! is an allusion to the recommended six feet of separation in social distancing.

To support this public art project, the Portland Art Museum is working with partners across the Metro area to use billboards, social media, banners, posters, and other messaging systems to highlight the disparity caused by existing inequalities, to underscore the importance of preventive and protective measures, and to thank the frontline workers risking their safety during this public health crisis. In Multnomah County, about 60% of the people infected with COVID-19 are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), while only comprising 30% of the population. Many of the populations affected are immigrants, many of whom work in jobs that put them at higher risk for exposure.

Through a public education partnership with Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Multnomah County Health Division, billboards with the campaign’s messages began running in East and North Portland in December and expanded to other locations in East Portland and East Multnomah County in January and February, supported by federal funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The billboards are concentrated in neighborhoods with populations most impacted by COVID based on demographic data, and a number of them feature Spanish-language text. The presentation on the exterior of the Portland Art Museum and NW Film Center buildings was installed last week and will run in January and February.

“The Museum is honored to help bring an artist’s vision to these important messages, and to be part of unifying our city around not only health and safety, but acknowledging the outsized impact that COVID is having on our BIPOC residents,” said Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso.

The partnership with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and Multnomah County Health Division complements the agencies’ own public awareness campaign around COVID-19 safety, which includes public service announcements and the website portlandstrong.org, where visitors can pledge to be COVID safe, and Portland strong. The public agencies announced today a COVID-19 safety public education campaign for Black, Latinx communities, with three coordinated efforts including Resist COVID / Take 6!, public service announcement videos, and a COVID Safe, Portland Strong pledge campaign launched today with a video from the Portland Trail Blazers.

“As the local public health authority, Multnomah County has long worked to address the inequities in access to healthcare that have led to disproportionately worse outcomes among people of color throughout this pandemic,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “Those inequities are unacceptable, they have devastating consequences, and I am excited to see the county and city working together to make sure everyone has equitable access to services and information that can help save lives.”

The Resist COVID / Take 6! campaign is also receiving important support from Portland Art Museum community partner The Numberz FM. As a radio station whose primary purpose is to create media space for Black people and communities of color, in a city where gentrification has played a significant part in scattering their voices, they are sharing the Resist COVID/ Take 6! messages on air and on social media. For over a year, the Numberz has worked with the Museum to create meaningful community outreach and help achieve the Museum’s goals for transforming equity and inclusion.

Increasing equity through community awareness is central to the Resist COVID/ Take 6 campaign created by Carrie Mae Weems, an internationally renowned artist who uses a range of mediums—including photography, video, digital imagery, text, fabric, and more—to explore intersecting themes of sexism, class, race, family and community, and the consequences of power. The artist has a deep connection to the Portland Art Museum; the Museum has mounted two important surveys of her work, in 1994 and 2013, and Weems recently joined the Museum’s Board of Trustees

Weems’ artistic practice, with its insistence on both technical achievement and radical empathy, creates space for community dialogue and catalytic social engagement. 

“My responsibility as an artist,” Weems writes, “is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.” 


Learn more at resistcovidtake6.org.

Resist COVID / Take 6! is led by Carrie Mae Weems’s project Social Studies 101, in association with Pierre Loving, and THE OFFICE performing arts + film. The Portland Art Museum exhibition is organized by Sara Krajewski, The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.

Presenting community partners include Portland Bureau of Transportation, Multnomah County Public Health Division, and The Numberz.fm. The campaign is sponsored by Boeing, Spencer Noecker and Cambria Benson Noecker, Dan Bergsvik and Don Hastler, Madden Industrial Craftsman, Jim and Susan Winkler, and Exhibition Series Sponsors. Additional support provided by the Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art.