While many of us might look to the 1918 pandemic as the last analog to this current crisis, the reality is that many marginalized communities have in the century since have endured systemic disease, hunger, and violence at degrees unimaginable to folks of privilege. It’s for this reason that I’ve found the Native community a particularly vital voice in this difficult period—after all, resistance and resilience are intrinsic elements of indigenous history and contemporary identity. With many nations hit hard by the virus and events cancelled, the epidemic has already levied a major economic, cultural, and spiritual impact on Indian Country. Yet within days of the first shelter-in-place orders, I received Facebook invitations to groups such as Social Distance Powwow and Quarantine Dance Specials 2020. Both pages have quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers and, curiously, few spammers and trolls. There, dancers post videos to compete for likes, artists and artisans sell their works, and in the comments viewers offer prayers and encouragement. On this platform, a vibrant and complex expression of community has manifested in just a few weeks: as during a powwow, honors are made, competitions and specials convened, votes are tallied, and winners announced. As Tiny Rosales, the creator of Quarantine Dance Specials 2020, remarked in an interview, “We gotta keep the people dancing…keep them dancing no matter what.”
While museums often spend big bucks to foster this type of organic digital engagement, my hunch is that these virtual spaces can’t be Post-ited or design-thought into being. In the same manner that our ancestors transmuted government commodities into toothsome culinary staples, contemporary Native folks have reimagined the rigid architecture of Facebook groups into a nucleation point of spiritual and cultural engagement. Perhaps an A/B tested digital engagement campaign has nothing on good medicine.
As we imagine the post-COVID-19 future of the museum sector, what lessons might we draw from indigenized virtual spaces like these?