After years of pandemic-forced isolation, roiling politics, and all kinds of losses and disruptions, the Anchorage Museum is rekindling a sense of community through a writing residency and a collaboration with the Anchorage Daily News to gather and share Anchorage residents’ pandemic stories.

COVID-19 nearly halted Alaska’s experience economy as individuals self-isolated for nearly two years. Polarizing attitudes about vaccines and masking further divided community members, and sometimes, families. With museums increasingly seeing themselves as having a social role in their communities, the Anchorage Museum considered how it could be a source of healing for its pandemic- and conflict-weary community. One response: Help people reconnect both in person and online by sharing stories about how the pandemic has affected them.

“I’ve collected hours of interviews,” says Julia O’Malley, Anchorage Museum writer-in-residence and leader of the project, called Neighbors: Stories from Anchorage’s Pandemic Years. “What I’ve heard is that the community was tested and divisions run deep, but that there is a strong desire to reconnect.”

The Neighbors storytelling project has three parts: listening, writing, and sharing. O’Malley gathers pandemic stories through surveys, interviews, and prompts shared on Instagram @eachotheranc. She leads community journaling activities in the museum’s satellite outreach space and draws from all these to write a series of pandemic stories that will be published and archived in the Anchorage Daily News digital edition.

“Our individual stories will become our collective history, and sharing them through creative action can be connecting and healing,” says Anchorage Museum Director Julie Decker. “Stories hold power for mutual understanding and conversation.”

For more information, visit anchoragemuseum.org.

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