Seeing essential workers through a new lensDec 21, 2020 11:05AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
The Delaware Art Museum is presenting a celebration of essential workers throughout the area with a photography exhibition in the museum’s Orientation Hallway.
COVID-19 and the response to stop the spread of the virus reminded nearly the whole world just how much it relies on essential workers. The initial focus was on thanking first responders such as doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel. But it quickly became evident that so many other kinds of workers—bus drivers, grocery cashiers, farmers, dry cleaners, and more—are essential to supporting our communities.
This photography project, Essential Workers Photography Campaign, created by operation technician Iz Balleto and teaching artist and curator-in-residence JaQuanne LeRoy, shows the faces and voices of the many people who have kept the community going since the start of the current health crisis. It will combine portraits with personal stories of working on the front lines, exploring what essential work entails and honoring those individuals who continue to dedicate their lives to their work every day.
Balleto, who lost a cousin to COVID-19, was inspired by his own experience as an essential worker at the Delaware Art Museum to create the campaign. Even a closed museum has critical operational needs.
“I was looking at empty walls in the museum,” he said. “I was essential, and still report every day. Apart from that, I thought about everybody else who was going to work. Not everyone had the opportunity to work from home: we had to get up no matter what.”
Balleto added, “What’s essential to a community is different than the definition of first responders. I wanted to highlight the heroes in our community who are more than just doctors and nurses. There are people who take care of children and the elderly; people who make sure we have food, from the bodega to the grocery to the bakery – they all matter. This is a love and a sacrifice.”
LeRoy was selected to curate the campaign, tapping photographer Luna Visions to shoot the subjects, and creating a questionnaire for the subjects as a way to collect information for the captions. Luna Visions’ work can be found on Instagram under @lunavisions.
LeRoy said, “Corner store bodegas represented an area of essential work that stood out for me. Growing up in Wilmington, the bodega was a staple, meeting your immediate needs without having to go to a grocery store.”
He added, “Understanding most of those are small businesses run by families and the risk they undertook to be open for the community, I thought that was very special and was happy to see as a part of this campaign. Those decisions where you might have to groom someone else to step up and be more involved when elderly people are at risk changes that family dynamic.”
Like Balleto, LeRoy experienced the effects of COVID-19 in his family. His uncle works for the Wilmington Port Authority, where fresh fruits and food supplies come into the community, and upon learning his uncle was in the hospital with the coronavirus, LeRoy’s perspective on who an essential worker was changed.
Molly Giordano, interim executive director, said, “So many people have supported us in 2020, ensuring that our needs are met and our families remain healthy and cared for. We believe art is an essential resource, and by utilizing the arts, we connect and celebrate our community.”
The Museum is open every Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with hours extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
*All photos courtesy © Luna Visions
The Delaware Art Museum
For over 100 years, the Delaware Art Museum has served as a primary arts and cultural institution in Delaware. It is alive with experiences, discoveries, and activities to connect people with art and with each other. Originally created in 1912 to honor the renowned illustrator and Wilmington native, Howard Pyle, the Museum’s collection has grown to over 12,000 works of art in our building and sculpture garden. Also recognized for British Pre-Raphaelite art, the Museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite art on display outside of the United Kingdom and a growing collection of significant contemporary art.
Under the leadership of our Board of Trustees, the Delaware Art Museum is implementing a comprehensive approach to community and civic engagement. This exciting new strategic direction requires that we increase our value and relevance to all audiences. Visit delart.org for the latest exhibitions, programs, and performances or connect with the museum via social media.