Sustaining Community

Dec 14, 2020

"I don't know that I've ever really grieved for someone I didn't really know, but someone who I was so intimately, at least for a short period of time, focused on saving."

-- Anish Agarwal, MD, We Run (2020)


In her book, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016), Christina Sharpe envisions museums as sites of repair where visitors are compelled to situate themselves within histories of loss—to work through forms of violence that both precede and haunt us. Within this social ecology, Sharpe suggests, the museum or monument has a particular psychological role: to invite reflection.

Aaron Levy, PhD, MPhil was the Executive Director and Chief Curator of Slought (2002-2022), a...

Cadava is Professor of English at Princeton University, where he also is affiliated with the...

Slought is not a museum, and our primary effort this year, the Penn Medicine Listening Lab, is not a monument. But taking a page from In The Wake, this project asks participants and listeners to confront and share their vulnerabilities. Fear and illness are often transformative experiences that inhibit our ability to express ourselves in language. By expressing privately experienced grief in public, individuals and communities come together to begin the process of healing.

In a recent story for the Listening Lab, Dr. Anish Agarwal reflects on the psychological burden of losing a victim of gun violence in the Emergency Room. As Agarwal notes, "I was talking to one of the nurses the other day. For us to talk, it was a moment of connection we hadn't had, and now we do have. Here we are, feet apart in the ER, but we never connected about how we both are doing." Another storyteller commented, reflecting on their experience working with the Listening Lab, "I think having gone through it, I feel more confident about being able to share vulnerabilities and my colleagues growing in the process."

We also launched Rx/Museum this year, a blog that draws from Slought's program archive, as well as from the collections of the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to encourage health providers at Penn and around the world to reflect on the challenges of providing humanistic patient care. The project's name can perhaps evoke Sharpe's conception of a different kind of museum—one in which the arts facilitate a broad inquiry into the poetics and politics of medicine. A recent post about Olga Chernysheva's photo series "Anabiosis. Fisherman - plants," for instance, which Slought presented in 2017, asked: "In what ways has the pandemic been marked by a sense of "anabiosis," or stasis, in which our lives feel as if they are on hold? How have first responders—clinicians, but also service workers in all sectors—been excluded from this "anabiosis" as they are continually exposed to various risks, mental health and financial strains?"

These are indeed dire times. Like Chernysheva's plant subjects swaddled in burlap, we face a daunting winter ahead. And yet, even as the death toll rises daily, we struggle to conceptualize the scale of loss. Amidst this ongoing trauma, without a vehicle to express or interpret its enormity, we have only just begun to comprehend the far-reaching mental health and economic implications of the pandemic on a personal and societal scale.

As the holidays approach, we at Slought hope that you will consider supporting our work, which has increasingly focused on matters of health during the pandemic. So many other organizations and causes across the arts and social services sectors are facing unprecedented need at this time. If you are in a financial position to give, we encourage you to consider donating to causes such as the following:


· Support Slought
Your donation will support the Community Microfund, a fund established by Slought to support the urgent needs of individuals, families, and small organizations, and the Pandemic Uncertainty Fund, a mutual aid fund for staff and collaborators in need of financial relief.

· Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium
Your donation will support education and advocacy to reduce the incidence of disease and death from coronavirus for African Americans.

· Philabundance
Your donation will support a leading Philadelphia food bank leading the fight against hunger in the United States


Wishing you health and connection in the year ahead.



Aaron Levy
Executive Director

Eduardo Cadava
Board Chair

Ella Comberg