Pandemic Oral History Project

By the Archives
November 27, 2020
Composite screenshots of 77 video interview participants in a grid. Full participants listed on this page.

Composite screenshots of 77 video interview participants, 2020. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Project Overview

To document the cascade of public health, social, and financial crises set in motion by COVID-19, the Archives of American Art created an oral history series that recorded responses to the global pandemic across the American art world. Conducted virtually, the Pandemic Oral History Project features eighty-five short-form interviews with a diverse group of artists, teachers, curators, and administrators. Averaging twenty-five minutes long, each interview provides a firsthand account of and urgent insights into the narrator's triumphs and tragedies in the summer of 2020. With more than thirty hours of recorded video and audio, the series bears witness to an unprecedented era as it unfolded in real time.


  • Nyssa Chow, lecturer and Princeton Arts Fellow, Lewis Center for the Arts and codirector, NYC COVID-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive, Columbia University/INCITE
  • Fernanda Espinosa, oral historian and cultural organizer
  • Lara M. Evans, associate professor of art history, Institute of American Indian Arts 
  • Melissa Ho, curator of twentieth-century art, Smithsonian American Art Museum

    From the Archives curatorial staff:

  • Josh T. Franco, national collector
  • Ben Gillespie, Arlene and Robert Kogod Secretarial Scholar for Oral History
  • Jacob Proctor, Gilbert and Ann Kinney New York Collector 
  • Matthew Simms, Gerald and Bente Buck West Coast Collector


For the selection of interviewees, we sought to capture diverse voices and multigenerational perspectives. The team continued to assess the breadth of narrators throughout the project, adjusting outreach as needed. When so many feel isolated and when traditional art spaces are disrupted and face existential risks, we are grateful to have reconnected with narrators already present in the Archives through personal papers, institutional records, and oral histories, while integrating many new voices into the collections.

View the full list of participants

How to Watch

The videos will be released in batches on our YouTube Channel, iTunes, and on this page. Together they form a chorus of resilience and despair, creation and loss. We hope the testimonies of artistic leaders and luminaries convey the interconnectedness and vibrancy of the art world in 2020. 


Thirty-five interviews were supported with federal funding from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.