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City of Syracuse Honors Carrie Mae Weems and Her COVID-19 Advocacy Project
In recognition of Syracuse University Artist in Residence Carrie Mae Weems’ efforts to raise public awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on people of color, promote preventative measures and dispel harmful falsehoods about the coronavirus, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh on Thursday issued a proclamation declaring July 9, 2020, as Carrie Mae Weems “Resist COVID Take 6” Day in the City of Syracuse.
Weems is an internationally renowned artist and MacArthur Fellowship recipient who uses multiple mediums (photography, video, digital imagery, text, fabric and more) to explore themes of cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, family relationships and the consequences of power.
She was honored Thursday at a midday announcement event in the Common Council Chambers at Syracuse City Hall. A recording of Mayor Walsh’s press conference is available for viewing on the City of Syracuse YouTube Channel.
Syracuse, where Weems lives, has served as a test market for her RESIST COVID TAKE 6! campaign. It launched in May with a series of digital billboards in targeted city neighborhoods and has continued with the distribution of various promotional items—bags, buttons, door hangers, hand fans, magnets—at community centers, COVID-19 testing sites, food banks, grocery stores and churches, as well as targeted mailings of informational flyers.
Additional waves of billboards will appear later this summer and in the fall. And RESIST COVID TAKE 6! signage will soon appear in bus shelters and on CENTRO buses. Also, a new series of video PSAs has been produced.
The project has begun expanding across the country, through the collaboration of Weems’ Social Studies 101 Inc. and partner art centers and local community organizations in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn, New York; Chicago; Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Detroit; Philadelphia; and Sarasota, Florida. In addition, a newspaper ad campaign has begun in Aspen, Colorado.
Growing research shows Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are more likely to get sick from COVID-19 than their white neighbors. This may be due in large part to a long history of social inequality and economic inequity. RESIST COVID TAKE 6! brings these issues to the forefront of public consciousness while emphasizing steps members of these affected communities can take to stay safe.
“One of the things we’ve noticed in this pandemic is that it has shined a very bright light on the systemic issues that have impacted a number of marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, for the history of this country: systemic racism, inequality,” Mayor Walsh remarked. “And those systemic problems have shown themselves in many different ways and have shown themselves in a very specific way during this pandemic. That is, we know our communities of color are disproportionately impacted by health crises like this. And it’s reflected in the numbers. We pride ourselves in being data-driven in our response. If we’re looking at the data, we know we have a significant problem in helping to protect our communities of color.
“This crisis gives us an opportunity, not only to try to address the short-term crisis and to make sure we’re taking care of each other and helping each other, especially the most marginalized, but it also gives us an opportunity to address those systems that existed long before this pandemic,” he said. “And unless we do something about it in this moment, they will impact us long after this pandemic.
“In a way that very few people in this world could do, Carrie has created an opportunity for us to both: address the short-term crisis we’re facing as well as to address the long-term systemic issues that have impacted us for far too long.”
“The Mayor used the term ‘inequality,’” Weems remarked. “Last week, my assistants Amy [Pennington-Lee] and Megan [King] and I were sitting looking at some of our material for this public art campaign, and I kept looking at the word and thinking about the word inequity. And the meaning of inequity. And the difference of the meanings of inequity and inequality.
“It dawned on me that there is something deep and wide and systemic about the idea of the word inequity,” Weems continued. “Its vastness across multiple series of landscapes, disciplines, cultures, practices and lives. And that it’s really inequity in the ways in which people of color have been treated through the lack of overall justice within the system that has given rise to this incredible health care crisis across the country.
“And this health care crisis has also linked to the escalating violence that is also ricocheting, unfortunately, at this time of this extraordinary epidemic through our community as well. They are all linked. And in that linkage, and in that connection, I think is where we find the depths of inequity and therefore where we have to work and focus our attention.”
Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens spoke about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic: “COVID is not a hoax. Don’t let people fool you. It is very real. And it is very much affecting communities that I call my community—that I’ve grown up in: Black, Brown, Native people. Very much affecting us. Wash your hands. Socially distance yourself. Wear a mask. And get tested.”
More information about RESIST COVID TAKE 6! can be found at socialstudiesproject.org/. The project is made possible through the support of Syracuse University, the Ford Foundation and the Rolex Foundation.