In March of 2020, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, longtime Austin businesses began shutting their doors for the first time, signature community events were cancelled, essential city systems were strained, and inequities were exposed among our vulnerable populations. We also witnessed remarkable instances of connection, creativity, and solidarity as we strived to keep our Austin communities together.
To ensure that these stories from the COVID-19 era are preserved, AHC began an initiative to collect materials from the public documenting life in Austin during the pandemic. Storytelling and archival documentation can be empowering sources of hope and healing during our most painful times, so the AHC staff hoped that in addition to contributing to the historical record of our city, the project could also be cathartic for Austin.
A year in, we have received 5,408 files (more than 36 GB) from hundreds of donors, each giving a unique perspective of life in Austin during COVID-19. The materials include records of local businesses responding to the crisis, aerial photographs of empty Austin streets and highways, murals on boarded-up 6th Street, essays and poetry, social media posts, videos performances to uplift communities, pandemic diaries both written and drawn, compiled COVID-19 statistics, protest signs, mask selfies, new visual art created in response to the pandemic, high school writing projects, and photographs of virtual wedding ceremonies, donation drives, kids in Zoom school, birthday parades, testing lines, pandemic yard art, and more.
We want to take a moment to reflect on the year through which we have all just lived, and so we present The COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds to a Pandemic. The full digital collection can be browsed here.
Donate to the collection by visiting https://library.austintexas.gov/ahc/covid-19-files.
Learn more about this project! AHC’s work on this collection was featured in Wired Magazine, Library Journal, KUT: Austin’s NPR Station, Austin Chronicle, Austin Monitor, Spectrum News Austin, CBS Austin, KVUE, and KXAN.
Special thanks to Preservica for donating the space for this collection in our digital repository as part of their #ourcovid19story initiative.
Featured photos jwj042020Coronavirus0606 (Photo by Jay Janner, (c) Austin American Statesman), AR-2020-013-di060 (Photo by Andrei Matei), AR-2020-014-di004 (Donated by T’so Chinese Delivery), WearYourMask1 (Photo by Adain Kahanek), AR-2020-014-di285 (Photo by John Feinberg)