Using Art for Public Health With Breathe No Evil

When the pandemic hit, our events were canceled. Unfortunately, taking photographs of people isn’t one of those things you can do well through video chat. At the same time, new stereotypes were popping up such as fear around people with Asian heritage because of the origins of the virus. Wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of the coronavirus, but while it’s more common in other cultures, in the United States, it made others uncomfortable both to see and wear. It was especially uncomfortable for many people of color to wear masks in public spaces because it exacerbated existing stereotypes and racial profiling. So while we couldn’t do photo shoots, we felt the need to still find a way to push on with our mission to challenge stereotypes and bring people together, as well as normalizing face coverings to help from a public health perspective.

The City of Salem stepped up, and since we had planned to photograph Salem this year, they offered us an artist grant to instead create the system that powers what became the Breathe No Evil project.

People have always been able to upload their own photographs to the No Evil Project site, but it’s difficult to take the three photos on your own and have them look like a set. So we created a DIY version of the project focused on just one photo and an easy to take pose: covering your mouth (and nose) - this time with a face mask. You still choose three labels, but this time it also shows that everyone is being affected by the pandemic in some way, regardless of their labels. Many of the good deeds also involve how people are helping others in their community during this time, as well as words of hope. As a collection it shows people in your community coming together and protecting each other.

As we fulfill our mission combating bigotry & discrimination through outreach & education, working with Breathe No Evil is a creative, fun way to bridge divides. We look forward to continued collaboration with the No Evil Project in Salem.

—Fara Wolfson & Jeff Cohen, Co-Chairs,
Salem No Place for Hate Committee

The Salem Public Art Commission and the City of Salem were excited to participate in the No Evil Project and felt that the development of Breathe No Evil would create a safe, engaging, and fun way to help normalize the wearing of masks in our community and show that we are all in this together, regardless of where we come from or who we are.

—Julie Barry, Senior Planner, Arts & Culture, City of Salem

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