Pfizer vials, Zoom costumes and plexiglass: The Museum of the North is building its pandemic collection

A COVID-19 piñata waits to be smashed by Carolina Tolladay Vidal’s customers. The Museum of the North is looking for iconic objects like this to document Alaska’s experience of the pandemic. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

As fewer COVID-19 cases show up at Alaska hospitals, many are hoping to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind them. But before too many people move on, the Museum of the North wants to collect culturally important objects that represent Alaska’s response to the pandemic.

Angela Linn is a senior collections manager at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

“I have to always be thinking, like, 20 years, 40 years from now, what are people going to want to know about this crazy experience that we’ve all just gone through,” she said.

Linn is not curating an exhibit about the pandemic. But she wants to seize this moment, while people are still living it.

“For future generations, you know, that’s what we have to think about for museums,” Linn said. “It’s not what stories speak to me right now. It’s, what are people in the future — what will they find interesting and compelling enough to do research or put together an exhibit on this stuff?”

Some of the problem is figuring out what will be important later while it is happening now. Linn thought the Museum of the North should have some items about the pandemic in its permanent collection. As her idea came together earlier this spring, she reached out to public health officials, including Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, who gave her some ideas.

“Oh, it would have been awesome if I could have gotten, like the first box of the first vaccine you know, that came into the state,” Linn said.

Linn connected with Lanien Livingston, the public information officer for Interior Alaska’s joint incident command.

At a mass vaccination clinic held at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Livingston was able to collect quite a few artifacts.

“A Moderna box, there was a Johnson and Johnson vial, a couple of Pfizer vials, stickers and some blank vaccination cards. All provided to me by public health.,” Livingston said.

Other people suggested to Linn that she look at the do-it-yourself response that Alaskans put together as the pandemic widened. Such as hand-sewn headbands and 3-D printed mask hooks and the different plexiglass barriers businesses came up with.

Linn is looking for iconic things. Symbolic things.

“Different things that people were doing like, Zoom squares as Halloween costumes, or you know, some of these out-of-the-world things,” Linn said.

Read next

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications