“A Return to Hope and Healing:” A Discussion about the Role of Art in a Pandemic

Bridget Flaherty ’21

Features Editor

On Wednesday April 7th, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture sponsored a discussion between three art historians which focused on the role of art during the COVID-19 pandemic. “A Return to Hope and Healing: Seeing Our Way Through a Crisis of Our Time” references the College’s 2005 collaboration with the Worcester Art Museum on an exhibition titled Hope and Healing: Painting in Italy in a Time of Plague, 1500-1800. This event is directly related to the original exhibition, as it focuses on artwork created during a pandemic.

The three art historians engaging in this event hail from both Holy Cross and the Worcester Art Museum. James A. Welu is the Director Emeritus of the Worcester Art Museum, Meredith Fluke is the Director of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery here at the college, and David Karmon is a Professor of History of Art and Architecture here as well. The event was moderated by the Director of the McFarland Center, Thomas Landy.

Dr. Welu begins the event with a quick presentation about the original Hope and Healing exhibit, providing important information and context to the current audience. The original exhibition explored the effects of the plague on the baroque period and ultimately showcased the perseverance that Italy showed as they dealt with this challenge. This collection showcases the human experience during a pandemic and emphasizes the role that art plays in constructing the history of a time period. This presentation begins the event with a sense of poignancy through the immediate connections between the past and present. 

The discussion between Dr. Welu, Dr. Fluke, and Professor Karmon further explores this sense of profundity, as they grapple with questions about art and exhibitions in the digital age, the magic of art, the pros and cons of photography in capturing the essence of a time period, and more. The conversation about art during the COVID-19 pandemic focused on the role of photography in capturing images. There is an immediacy with which one can encapsulate an image through a camera, but Dr. Welu reminds us that that is not the only way to depict a moment or a story. He imagines a future exhibition about COVID-19 and ultimately concludes that this exhibit would probably focus on the scientific challenges and advancements that defined this time period.

This event reminds us of the importance of art in telling stories, constructing histories, and communicating the human experience. It underscores the importance of hope and ponders interesting questions about the role of art today, in the past, and in the future. If you’re interested in viewing the event, a recording of it can be found on the College of the Holy Cross’ YouTube account.

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