Penn Performing Arts in the Pandemic Project

Jaden Cloobeck, C’22

What is this project about? How do I navigate the dedicated website?

How can “the show go on” during a pandemic? I have wondered about how future Penn students and historians will reflect back upon the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Rather than just think about it, I decided to take action to record this moment in history while it is still happening. For my Fall 2021 class on American Monuments, one of my projects was to propose a memory work to something that is un(der)commemorated at Penn or in Philadelphia. Since I believe Covid-19 has been under-commemorated thus far, I created this website dedicated to the Performing Arts in the Pandemic at the University of Pennsylvania.

This website includes student audio testimonials, a timeline documenting major events from 2020-2021 impacting the Penn performing arts community, resources to more reading materials and links to share your story to different Covid-19 archives. If you would like to learn more about the history of this project, click on the Learn More tab and scroll to the bottom. I am passionate about capturing people’s stories during this unusual time to be in a college environment, so if you would like to record a memory to add to this website’s collection, please reach out to me (my email is below). All people in the Penn community are welcome.

What have other communities done to commemorate the coronavirus pandemic thus far?

Flags, memorial walls, pictures of loved ones and empty chairs. Communities across the United States have creatively commemorated those we’ve lost so far from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The most notable commemorative piece of art thus far has been Suzanne Brennan’s “IN AMERICA How could this happen…”, where she planted 240,000 white flags to represent American lives lost to Covid-19 on the Washington D.C. Armory Parade Ground. Brennan reprised this project on Washington D.C.’s National Mall, where she planted over 660,000 flags for every life lost to Covid-19 in the United States. In Austin, Texas, artist Shane Reilly planted more than 23,000 orange, pink, red and white flags outside his front yard to commemorate every Texan lost to the virus. There have also been musical tributes to lives lost to Covid-19, such as the Washington state’s Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” On August 31, 2020, the city of Detroit, Michigan put up enlarged photos of loved ones for people to see as they drove around. In October 2020, 20,000 empty chairs faced the White House in Washington D.C. to represent the more than 200,000 lives lost. There have also been digital memorial walls, such as the one in New York City, where you can submit a name for someone to be memorialized. There are more projects that you can learn about in the PBS NewsHour article. There has been no shortage of creativity in commemorating Covid-19. However, from my vantage point, there has not yet been significant in-person commemorative efforts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why do this project now?

As of the time of this writing in December 2021, we are going on almost two years since the pandemic turned our lives upside down. You may be wondering why I am collecting these stories now as opposed to when the pandemic is “over.” I don’t think we can wait that long. It is important to capture stories now and in the future. Now, we have the advantage of still remembering the fine details of our experiences, which may benefit future students and historians. Years from now, commemorative efforts will be needed to gain a long-term perspective on how the pandemic changed our lives, the Penn community and the world. I hope my project can fill in a small piece in the large puzzle of how we remember the coronavirus pandemic for years to come.

Mission statement

The Performing Arts in the Pandemic Project’s mission is to document and archive the stories of student-performing artists and arts administrators to heal, remember and celebrate the resilience of the student performing arts community at the University of Pennsylvania.

Contact for more information.