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Arts & Culture

Allentown Art Museum opens new exhibit about COVID-19, healing

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Snaps, claps and tears filled an Allentown Art Museum gallery Monday as visitors processed a trauma shared around the world.

Allentown Art Museum held a reception for its new immersive and interactive exhibition "Restoring Petals," which reflects on the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic and honors those who died.

The reception featured music and poetry performances. It was part of the museum’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, as organizations across the region celebrated what would have been King’s 95th birthday.

Olivia Marble
Chloe Cole-Wilson, the creator of the 'Restoring Petals' exhibition.

Chloe Cole-Wilson, Basement Poetry artistic director and the creator of the exhibition, said the timing was intentional.

“Dr. King’s legacy is challenging the world, and as he once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,’” Cole-Wilson, who is a museum Community Art+Action Fellow, said.

“This is a space that will not be silent about the things that happened to our community during and after COVID-19.”

"Restoring Petals" is presented by Basement Poetry, a performance arts nonprofit that creates spaces for people to process topics such as racism, LGBTQ issues and more.

The exhibition

Rows of hundreds of paper sunflowers line the arched entrance to the exhibition. Each one was created by community members in various workshops at the museum.

'Restoring Petals' Exhibition
Olivia Marble
The reading corner in the 'Restoring Petals' exhibition.

In one corner, chairs and pillows make a cozy space for reading the dozens of children’s books on nearby shelves. Cole-Wilson said she added the books because of the impact the pandemic had on reading levels.

In another corner hangs resin pieces with pictures of people who died of COVID-19 interspersed with flowers.

Poems, collages, photos and QR codes to podcast episodes also tell the story of the pandemic from dozens of perspectives.

'The power to heal'

The reception began with a choreopoetry performance, which is a combination of song, poetry and choreography.

"What is home?" choreopoetry facilitator Latrice Young asked the audience while the other performers sang in the background.

Responses ranged from "love" to "solitude" to "stability."

The event also featured a poetry reading by Incorect Poetry and music performances by artists Syncere Jackson, Quartez Larell and Rozse. Artist Darius Foster introduced the performers.

Artists and audience members alike shed tears at times as the performers shared emotional pieces, some written during the pandemic.

'Restoring Petals' Exhibition
Olivia Marble
Bethlehem-based artist Quartez Larell performs during the 'Restoring Petals' reception.

The backdrop for the performances was a mural with sunflowers and the phrase "Rest is Love." Local artists Rei Ukon, Genesis Rodriguez and Michelle Wilson created the mural.

Ukon, an educator at the museum, said their design of the sunflower’s center was inspired by mandalas, geometric designs that are used for meditation in various religious traditions.

Ukon said they think the exhibition can help people connect through a shared experience.

“We can find an overlap with someone's experience even if it's not exactly the same,” Ukon said. “We've all gone through something that's terrible and traumatic and experienced loss and grief.

“But we also have the power to heal from it and move on from it in a way that feels good, that feels right.”

“Seeing the community engage with the work, read the poetry, get back into a space with community — it was just so beautiful."
Chloe Cole-Wilson, creator of 'Restoring Petals'

Cole-Wilson said she was happy with the way the reception went.

“Seeing the community engage with the work, read the poetry, get back into a space with community — it was just so beautiful,” Cole-Wilson said.

President of Basement Poetry Deidre Van-Waters said she thinks the event will encourage future community participation through sharing art and music.

“It just adds vibrancy to overall life,” Van-Waters said. “A breath of air is fresher because of art and all that we have to share.”

"Restoring Petals" will stay at the Allentown Art Museum until June. The museum has free admission and parking.

Cole-Wilson said there will be various workshops in the exhibition until it closes, including one on Jan. 26 for community leaders about creating similar spaces for marginalized communities.