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Cape Ann Museum Green premieres an exhibition of family portraits taken during the pandemic
Bill Sumner, The Gloucester Fire Department, Central Fire Station, 2020. Archival ink jet print.

GLOUCESTER, MASS.- For the opening exhibition of the new Cape Ann Museum Green, The Porch-Rait Project, local photographers spent several weeks during the pandemic creating portraits of families outside their homes on Cape Ann. Each of the 245 families photographed then made donations to The Open Door, a local agency that supplies food and meals to families in need, so the project became a creative and inspiring way to respond to the current health care emergency as the community came together during the early days of the crisis.

The photographers, Jason Grow, Shawn G. Henry, Paul Cary Goldberg, and Bill Sumner, started taking portraits in April, gathered more than 245 photos, and helped raise $30,000 for The Open Door. A selection of 40 portraits from The Porch-Rait Project will hang in the new Janet and William Ellery James Center at Cape Ann Museum Green off Grant Circle which opens Sept. 17.

“The portraits in The Porch-Rait Project show a range of families: parents with energetic youngsters, teenagers awkwardly being embraced by their parents, people isolating alone and in multi-generational pods,” writes Martha Oaks, the Museum’s Curator. “The portraits invite us to imagine what life might be like inside homes. And if you look closely, they show hints of spring, of rebirth: hyacinth bulbs poking up through the earth and kids in bare feet. The images make us feel good about who we are and remind us of the comfort of home. But the photographs do not show everyone, and they remind us of the disparities that exist between households. They remind us of those who are homeless, who go without meals, and who are forced to make painful decisions for financial reasons. Although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. And it is that awareness that was the genesis of The Porch-Rait Project, an acknowledgement that we all need to look after each other, particularly in times like these.”

Artistically, the exhibition conveys a community in isolation while also in unity. Philanthropically, it helped sustain The Open Door, a vital Cape Ann nonprofit as it met a 40 percent increase in demand for food assistance at the height of the pandemic. More than 750,000 meals were provided to nearly 5,000 households from mid-March to the end of August with 19,000 curbside distributions and deliveries to 10 cities and town in Essex County. Even now, there is a 20 percent increase in demand before the COVID 19 crisis caused such economic hardship.

“As the pandemic brought the world to its collective knees, the community stepped up and The Open Door stayed OPEN,” said Julie Hazen LaFontaine, The Open Door’s President and CEO. “We know the road to economic recovery for many will stretch out over months or years. We are planning for the long haul. We will be here, and we are grateful for a community that cares for its own. Storms rage. Community endures.”

The Storms Rage/Community Endures message has been at the core of Cape Ann Museum’s operations during this pandemic. Three banners were installed early on in this crisis on the façade of the Museum’s Pleasant Street campus featuring Fitz Henry Lane’s painting of an embattled ship at sea with the message: “Storms Rage, Gloucester Endures.” Concurrently, this message of solidarity was also shared in a membership mailing along with the invitation to assist those directly impacted by this crisis by supporting social service organizations like The Open Door as a vital community resource in need.

“The response was instantaneous,” said Museum Director Oliver Barker. “This community has weathered many storms and together will endure this crisis. With the opening of our new campus, we felt it was fitting to feature these moving portraits by local photographers who have chronicled the quarantine experience in a unique and ultimately charitable way. We hope the community is inspired by this project and the opportunity to visit the inaugural exhibit at the Janet & William Ellery James Center at our new and beautiful Cape Ann Museum Green campus.”

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