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Royal Alberta Museum to document COVID-19 pandemic with masks, hand sanitizer and more

The exterior of the new $375.5 million Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton. August 16, 2016. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

The masks and hand sanitizer we use all the time now may soon be in a museum near you.

The Royal Alberta Museum is starting to collect artifacts to document the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julia Petrov, curator of daily life and leisure as well as acting head of history at the Royal Alberta Museum, said the museum wanted to capture the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives.

Different programs within the museum are collecting items based on their mandate, Petrov said.

She said the military and government history collection might collect items such as playground tape and an outfit worn by a teacher.

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Municipalities across the province have shut down playgrounds to reduce the risk of spreading the virus while all teachers in Alberta moved to virtual learning after the province cancelled in-person classes.

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The work, life and industry program may collect items that have been produced by companies who re-tooled their manufacturing to produce critically needed items, such as PPE and hand sanitizer.

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Many distilleries in the province switched to producing hand sanitizer as demand increased and other organizations have produced face shields.

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Petrov said museum staff are also collecting face masks, artistic masks produced by Indigenous artisans, as well as items related to the community response, such as T-shirts with the image of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, with sales going to the food bank.

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“Being able to capture that and the real outpouring of affection and trust from the community was important for us to document, but also the fact this is proceeds that are going to charity and things are going to the needy,” she said.

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The artifacts collected will share a lot about this time period in our history.

“Don’t take toilet paper for granted, for example, but also even things like the value of your community,” Petrov said.

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“Whether that’s volunteering, working really hard on the front-line, whether that’s just helping out your neighbours by doing some grocery delivery or clean-up for them.”

Petrov said museum staff often do contemporary collecting and one challenge is knowing whether artifacts have staying power in terms of their historical narrative. That isn’t the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We don’t have to ask that question. We know this is absolutely a historical moment we’re living in.”

Anyone interested in donating an artifact is asked to contact the museum’s general email inbox.

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