Flatten the Curve: Envisioning, Remembering, and Forgetting COVID-19

Curated by: Christopher D. Cantwell and Marc Tasman

Flatten the CurveIn the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials across the globe asked communities to help “flatten the curve.” On one level, the slogan sought to prevent a spike in coronavirus infections through a variety of public health measures. By sheltering in place, remaining safer at home, or practicing social distancing, communities could keep the trendline of COVID-19 cases from rising—or, flat. But the call to “flatten the curve” also speaks to the relationship between aesthetic presentations of data and social action. By visualizing a potential rise in COVID-19 cases, officials were able to bring about, for a time, changes in behavior.


This exhibit explores another COVID-19 trendline. After the state’s first safer at home order went into place, faculty, students, and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee launched a crowdsourced digital archive intended to document how our community experienced the pandemic. Called COVID-19 MKE: A Milwaukee Coronavirus Digital Archive, the project allows users to contribute videos, photographs, or social media posts to a repository that will help the community memorialize this moment. A curated collection of the project’s one thousand items are presented here, expanding out from a common axis. The photographs are organized by the month in which they were contributed, with each image representing ten contributions to the site. Behind the images lays a trendline of Wisconsin’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases, with the peak representing roughly 7,500 daily new cases. Their juxtaposition invites a consideration of the relationship between our willingness to remember the pandemic and the success of our efforts to curb its spread. Could flattening one curve effect the other?


We invite you to contribute your own thoughts, answers, and memories to the project itself by using the QR code below. It will take you to the COVID-19 MKE, where you can learn about all of the items presented here, as well as upload an image, video, audio recording, or social media post from the past year. Whatever you decide to share, we implore you help us “flatten the curve” of Milwaukee’s memory about COVID-19