Visual artist and Syracuse resident Carrie Mae Weems started a public awareness campaign in the city in May, focused on the impact COVID-19 has had on black, brown and native communities. Since then, the campaign has expanded across the country to places like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. Weems uses giveaway items to spread messages on how people can protect themselves.
It started with drinks between Weems and her best friend, lamenting over the rise of COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on minorities.
“And the next day, we were off and running,” Weems said.
The campaign is called “Resist COVID Take 6,” as in, keep six feet apart. Black and white photos of women of color, next to slogans encouraging people to social distance, appeared on billboards in certain neighborhoods, then posters.
“The point is, how do you get information into the hands of the people that need it?” Weems said. “What are the strategies that one can employ?”
Now, her team is making thousands of items, including newspaper flyers, fans, reusable masks and grocery bags, reminding people to wash their hands and cover their face in public.
“You design them beautifully so that they are keepsakes, they are items that you want to hold on to, as opposed to immediately trashing the moment you empty your grocery bag,” Weems said.
The messages also dispel myths about using bleach and hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. A button reads, “COVID-19 is not a hoax.”
"Ultimately, it's a very inexpensive project to produce," Weems said. "A button doesn't cost very much."
The project is being funded with help from Syracuse University. Weems was honored at Syracuse City Hall last week with a proclamation from the mayor in recognition of her work.