Texas artists and community organizations across the country are ahead of the curve in making DIY masks to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a recommendation, based on new evidence on how the virus spreads, urging that we all use cloth face coverings in public, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Although citizens in countries like China, Japan, and South Korea have long worn face masks, partially due to the SARS virus outbreak from the early 2000s, the practice has never been adopted in the U.S. But considering the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, as early as two weeks ago artists began aiding the effort to make masks that help curb community-based transmission.
One such effort, Operation Face Masks, by Houston’s Anne Whitlock, has begun a small batch production of masks with TXRX Labs, an East Houston makerspace, who got involved in mask prototyping after they got a request from an area hospital to develop and prototype personal protective equipment (PPE). “My husband and I got involved to help TXRX raise money for the effort by mounting a GoFundMe campaign which has raised over $136,000 to date,” Whitlock wrote in an email to Glasstire.
TXRX has created face shields, intubation boxes, and PAPRs, while Connect Community, Whitlock’s Organization, is working with seamstresses and tailors in Gulfton, a southwest Houston suburb, to make the reusable face masks with replaceable filters.
Artist Beili Liu, in collaboration with architects Emily Little and Norma Yancey, and landscape architect Cassie Bergstrom, created THIRST, a public art installation on Austin’s Ladybird Lake, back in 2013. The public art installation, presented by Women & Their Work, was created using dozens of prayer flags. Liu is now sewing “Prayer Masks” with the flags, to donate to medical professionals as PPE to help extend the use of N95 masks.
Another artist, Heather Gorham, whose 3-D printed sculpture was recently shown at Dallas’ Craighead-Green gallery, is working with biomedical engineers at Dallas based MEDCAD, to design and fabricate 3D masks and respirator valves for area hospitals and staff.
DallasFtWorth Mask Crusaders is one of a handful of a type of organization running in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, and expanding to other cities. The organization has created a Google document form to solicit extra masks, gloves and other protective equipment from artists, institutions, workshops, and laborers in their cities. Inspired by a call to action from artist Tauba Auerbach: “Frontline workers connect directly with donors, with no slow go-between, so within our first 24 hours we were able to facilitate the donation of over 3,000 items,” the form states.
Houston artist and Gray Contemporary gallery owner Mel Dewees is using his gallery to create plastic face shields for Houston’s Ben Taub hospital’s ER staff. The masks are $7 a piece, with a dollar from each order going to the gallery. “Orders are coming fast[, and] we now have 400 ordered,” Dewees wrote in an Instagram post.
Glasstire is committed to providing information to artists and arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. For artists’ resources during this time, please go to our updating news feed, and our classifieds section of Artists’ Resources.