At the beginning of 2020, no one would have guessed the world would be battling a pandemic. Without a vaccine or a clear cure to Covid-19, we are left with few tools in our arsenal for defense. One of the most effective tools we have to protect ourselves or others from the virus are masks. Health experts have been encouraging the public to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth in order to slow the spread of the pandemic since early April, though not everyone seemed to get this memo. As cases continue to climb, it is more important than ever to wear a mask when out in public. Efforts are being made locally to further promote the use of masks. NoMa has teamed up with four local artists in order to encourage D.C. denizens to wear a mask. Robin-Eve Jasper, NoMa BID president, spoke with District Fray about this effort to spread awareness of mask wearing.
District Fray: How were the four artists chosen for this project?
Robin-Eve Jasper: NoMa BID has always made it a priority to enliven the neighborhood with art, including the more than 50 murals created in NoMa over the last five years through our sponsorship of the POW! WOW! DC mural festival curated by renowned local artist Kelly Towles. For our Wear a Mask campaign, we reached out to Kelly, who then connected us with four other leading local artists: Michelle Shiyu Chen, Trap Bob, and the duo of Hanna and Lindy of Red Swan Walls, all known for using their creative energies and artistic talents to positively impact our community. We gave each of the artists creative license with very little direction, except for the goal of producing impactful art to drive home the importance of mask wearing to stop the spread of coronavirus. We love what each of the artists created, and as evidenced by ongoing demand for the free posters and the widespread sharing of the imagery on social media, so does the public.
This campaign not only highlights the importance of mask wearing and public health, but also the significance of artists in the DMV. Have the artists on this project received more support since this campaign launched?
The primary goal of our Wear a Mask campaign was to encourage universal mask-wearing, but we also launched this initiative to support local artists and small businesses [as] both [have] been impacted during this public health emergency. We’re proud to help raise awareness of the talents of these local DMV artists by sharing their work and making it available for free to anyone who stops by one of 13 local NoMa small businesses and restaurants to pick up these posters. We’ve received several inquiries asking for the names of the artists and their contact information. The posters are becoming iconic and one day, when this virus is in our rearview mirror, these artworks will be a reminder to all of us who did our part by following the science and advice of public health experts to wear a mask to help stop the spread.
How have Washingtonians responded to this campaign overall?
People are loving not only the art itself, but the simple and clear messaging of the campaign. To date, we’ve distributed more than 1,200 free posters, with requests continuing. We’ve installed more than 200 yard signs along the streets of NoMa. And soon, you’ll see banners installed in prominent locations in the neighborhood [as] visual reminders of the importance of mask-wearing. Walking through the NoMa neighborhood, you can see the posters displayed in store windows, on the balconies of people’s apartments and in yards of nearby rowhouses. The images are also widely shared on people’s social media feeds, and many have set the artwork as their Zoom background. While we launched this campaign to help the NoMa community reconnect and reopen safely, we’re thrilled to see the posters displayed in neighborhoods across the city.
Mask wearing is imperative in slowing the spread of the virus. Why are artists the best way to deliver this message to the public?
Strong art is a powerful, visual medium. In NoMa, we have found art to be an incredibly important shared public experience. Now, there are more limits than ever on the experiences we can share. It just feels right to convey through beautiful, compelling images that we can care for one another by wearing masks, and to suffuse that message and experience throughout the neighborhood. Art has become part of NoMa’s DNA, and the Wear a Mask campaign taps into NoMa’s arts identity and the transformative power of art to connect, educate, inspire and alter behavior.
How long will this campaign continue?
Many health experts are predicting mask-wearing will be needed for some time to help stop the spread of coronavirus. As long as we are battling this virus, we will continue to support Mayor Bowser’s mask mandate and continue our Wear a Mask public service campaign. As Dr. Fauci and other public health experts have shared, masks remain our number one tool for protecting ourselves and others from this virus. We invite everyone to join forces to spread the word and share the Wear a Mask art on social media and stop by a NoMa participating business to pick up a free poster to display. Together, we can spread the word and stop the spread.
For a full list of participating locations where free Wear a Mask posters are available, visit www.nomabid.org. Follow NoMa BID on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to stay up-to-date on everything going on in the community.
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