While New Orleans begins to reopen this week, we should remember that we're not out of the woods yet. The pandemic shows limited signs of quitting. Medical workers keep heroically reporting for duty at hospitals every day, risking their lives to treat sick and contagious patients. As if that dangerous state of affairs weren't enough, there's a shortage of simple, life-saving goods such as masks. To help with the emergency, a group of New Orleans artists have begun accepting donations to make masks.
Will Nemitoff, a local "large-scale installation artist," and Ayo Scott, another local visual artist, are partnering with the Arts Council New Orleans, a nonprofit which bills itself as the "city's official art agency." The collaboration's aim is two-fold: one, to inspire coronavirus first responders with poetry and, secondly, to provide them with scarce personal protection equipment (PPE).
Nemitoff brings his company Curious Form, an arthouse manufacturing firm, to the cause. Curious Form is foregoing its usual bohemian works to focus instead on assembling face shields. The group has managed to donate 1,200 masks to local hospitals so far. "I knew I had to do something to help my city," Nemitoff said.
In addition to PPE production, Curious Form focuses on hiring workers who are unemployed as a consequence of the quarantine. As much as they are adapting to the present crisis, supporting New Orleans creative arts never seems far from their mission either.
Scott took charge of the more intangible side of the team. He says that stories of frontline medical professionals having to come up with explanations to give to their coronavirus patients inspired him. Now, Scott is helping direct local poets to come up with verse, which Curious Form then prints on its face shields.
The Arts Council New Orleans provides financial backing. The Council administers a "Creativity Connects" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a portion of which is funding the collaboration.
The funding from the NEA grant is enough to cover 500 masks. To reach its overarching goal of 10,000 masks, Curious Form still has a long way to go. The group is actively in search of partnerships and individual donations alike.