There is a thirst in the community to talk about the pandemic and discuss how it has changed our lives. A few of us got a taste of what this kind of public conversation might reveal at an April 3 event of Boulder Arts Week: an in-person panel discussion at Refuge Art Gallery on Pearl Street about the “New Normal” of pandemic life. The panelists were visual artist Rebecca Sharp, pedagogist and literature scholar Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave, and learning designer Ashley Thomas. Seven audience members sat in folding chairs scattered throughout the gallery, and fresh air from the effervescent spring day poured in from the open front- and backdoors.
The wide-ranging discussion began at the beginning of the pandemic, with cancelled travel plans and the lack of delineated space due to working (or no longer working), parenting, learning and doing nearly everything solely from home. For many of us, without our regular commutes, “we’ve had to find ways to drive back home without driving home,” as Sharp put it. The audience nodded in recognition and agreement. “After the pandemic started, I realized that so much of my self-confidence came from travel,” Thomas said, reflecting on how the pandemic had forced her to be alone with herself for the first time in a long time.
The three panelists touched on the pain of social distancing: “There’s a kind of psychological electric fence around all of us,” Sharp said. Iturbe-LaGrave talked about the impossibility of burying her father, who died of COVID last year, on Zoom. The panelists discussed how, in some ways, the pandemic has been a collective growing up, and there is safety in knowing that we are going through it together. The past year has presented us with opportunities to grow, to turn inward, and to self-source our inspiration. The fact that it is happening to all of us, together, can be difficult to bear in mind at times, but can also give us strength.
Spring is here, the vaccine is here, let’s gather soon to tell our stories. It’s important that we reflect together locally, as a community, about our diverse experiences. Over the coming year, we need more opportunities, like the one April 3, to physically come together and reconnect, talk about what happened to us, ask each other questions and listen to the answers. We should seize the moment and talk about it while it’s still fresh. Community centers, classrooms, bars, theaters, art galleries, museums, parks and beyond are all spaces these conversations can take place in.
Back in the gallery, to wrap up the event, the moderator asked the panelists a final question: What does moving forward look like for them?
“Being inspired by what inspires me,” Sharp said. “The physicality of life. We need to reconvene,” Iturbe-LaGrave said. “Recognizing the small victories,” Thomas concluded. The audience nodded and murmured with each answer. All of us have gone through so much in the past year. By sharing our stories, we’re sharing knowledge that can help us build a new normal that’s better than the old one.
Carolyn Kerchof is a writer and designer based in Boulder, and the creator of the project Boulder Covid Stories.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.