Welcome to the World’s First COVID-19 Art Museum

With entire populations around the world locked inside, museums everywhere have closed their doors until the deadly coronavirus pandemic passes.

Not this one. Which actually opened.

Since crisis fuels artistic inspiration — and lockdowns provide artists plenty of time to realize it all — three Barcelona-based advertising professionals came up with a bright idea: the Covid Art Museum (CAM), an Instagram account collecting the best COVID-19-related work out there.

Launched in mid-March, just as Spain was careening into the health crisis, this volunteer effort showcases the creative fruits of mostly European artists who have something to say about how society’s changing before our eyes. Musing over the ways social distancing has altered daily life, or simply poking fun at it, creators from Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere have weighed in with their keen artistic wit.

After all, “we are now in a period of very important reflection on everything,” says CAM co-founder Irene Llorca, creative art director at marketing agency Honest Barcelona.

Toilet paper features prominently too.

Popular themes include creative pleas for consumers to stay home, as well as playful takes on the newly ubiquitous face masks. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, toilet paper features prominently too. Virtually every art form — photographs, illustrations, installations and much more — makes an appearance in the museum’s quickly growing archive, which now includes more than 250 posts.

London-based art director Thomas Ollivier, also known as Tom le French, has turned his attention to a series of photographic manipulations that comment, among other things, on what face masks might tell us about our future. Even after the crisis ends, he says, the objects might find their way into our normal routine. “Surely it will start to become like a handbag or an accessory, and obviously brands will step in and create their own version of it,” he says. 

Receiving dozens of submissions each day, the museum has enjoyed a surge in popularity — in less than a month, it’s already amassed 19,000 followers — while Llorca says the team’s getting tons of positive feedback from artists and ordinary consumers alike.

For creators, it’s a free platform for their art. For everyone else, Llorca adds, “it’s a space that can give them strength and help them realize that they are not alone in this.

“Maybe they’ll see that artwork by a Spanish person in Bilbao speaks directly about their current situation. It’s a way to connect people virtually.”

Just like with every other aspect of life these days, it feels pointless to talk about future plans. But at the very least, Llorca says, a digital book might be in the works — plus a physical exhibition, for when it’s all over.

For now, though, she encourages art lovers to follow along. And Ollivier, the London-based art director, suggests there’s plenty more to come.

“Even noncreative people are getting creative,” he says.

Why Russia’s Coronavirus Fate Is Complicated

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued its deadly global march last month, Russia drew skepticism over its low infection numbers. It was the same old story, critics claimed: Eager to stem the flow of negative information, an authoritarian government was suppressing the true scope of the problem.

Sure, the Kremlin’s no stranger to massaging or manufacturing information, whether to sideline its political opponents at home or fuel a war abroad. And President Vladimir Putin has indeed appeared eager to play down the severity of his country’s outbreak — saying the situation was “under control” and early measures like closing the country’s land border with China had contained the outbreak.

But this week, the official tally has spiked — with at least 2,700 people infected as of Wednesday. But here’s a thought: Maybe Russia’s ready for what’s coming. After all: 

Russia has around three times more hospital beds per capita than the United States.

That’s according to the latest available statistics from the World Bank, which found that Russia’s state-run health care system boasts 8.2 beds per 1,000 people, compared to America’s 2.9. Meanwhile, it’s also got four physicians per 1,000 residents, whereas the U.S. has 2.6.

But there’s a catch, says Vasiliy Vlassov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow: The quality of that workforce isn’t exactly stellar. “But it is definitely better than in China or any other traditional developing country,” Vlassov adds. In recent years, for example, cardiologists in heart disease-rich Russia have shown some success in treating heart attacks, leading to a reduction in hospital mortality, says fellow researcher Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

And that, in a nutshell, is the paradox of Russia’s chronically underfunded health care system: Sprawling yet underdeveloped, it’s theoretically equipped for an impending coronavirus crisis — yet not at all prepared. First, consider the number of hospital beds. Along with other former Soviet countries, Russia leads Europe in the amount of beds per capita. But experts have questioned how many of them can be converted for intensive care, since that’s where severe coronavirus cases will inevitably end up.

Ivanovo Region Clinical Hospital

A recent bombshell report on child health care found that 52 percent of Russian medical facilities don’t have hot water, while 30 percent don’t have running water at all.

Source Vladimir Smirnov/Getty

Then there’s the recent bombshell report on child health care by Russia’s Audit Chamber, the government’s financial oversight body. It found that 52 percent of Russian medical facilities don’t have hot water, while 30 percent don’t have running water at all. The Ministry of Health took issue with those findings, claiming government auditors were counting places like storage spaces, garages and similar units. Its own figures are far different: Only 3.5 percent have no running water, while a mere 6.5 percent (not the audit’s 35 percent) lack indoor plumbing.

Meanwhile, both World Bank figures were collected either before or during the government’s campaign to restructure the health care bureaucracy. According to Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Doctors’ Alliance, it led to the disappearance of some 30,000 jobs and the closure of several thousand facilities. So while Russia is well-stocked with around 40,000 ventilators, or roughly 27 per 100,000 people — compared to 18 for every 100,000 people in the U.S, according to an estimate from Johns Hopkins University — they may not matter if there aren’t enough specialists to operate them, Vasilyeva adds.

Disparity is also a major issue. Outside Moscow or St. Petersburg, many clinics and hospitals scattered across far-flung settlements through the vast country lack even basic supplies, such as masks and gowns, says Andrei Konoval, the leader of a health workers union. Despite that fact, the Kremlin has shipped off medical aid to various countries — including Italy, China, Venezuela and, just this week, the United States — in what most assume is a geopolitical muscle flex.

Yet the country’s geography might also play to Russia’s favor: Its population density, around 22 people per square mile, is a small fraction of hotspots like the U.S. (94 people per square mile) and Italy (532). About two-thirds of the coronavirus cases reported in Russia are in Moscow. Epidemiologists have theorized that while coronavirus may be more difficult for rural areas to treat due to lack of facilities, they may stay virus-free longer by virtue of their isolation.

But in general, says Konoval, “there’s not a sense that our health care system has been developing in the right direction in recent years.” And as the pandemic digs through the world’s largest country by land area, we’ll find out soon enough how much that’s true.

Special Briefing: Coronavirus: A Lesson in Creativity?

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? The U.S. is now the global capital of the coronavirus, surpassing China and Italy, with more than 86,000 cases as of Friday morning. And it’s taking its toll on the economy: A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the previous high. That’s why businesses ranging from restaurants and museums to advertising and sex work can no longer count on traditional modes of operation. But some sectors are adapting smartly, and swiftly. 

Why does it matter? The economic crisis and unprecedented global restrictions on movement are forcing businesses that haven’t changed in decades to embrace new models that could fundamentally reshape those industries for the future. Their success, or failure, could determine whether we emerge from the pandemic stronger — or weaker.

Some Restaurants Close, Others See Increase in Sales

An employee of Carmelina’s in the North End of Boston tapes up paper in the windows of the restaurant, which is temporarily closing during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

New (virtual) realities. With galleries closed and major fairs canceled, art dealers are turning to innovations like internet sales and private online viewings to hawk their work. In the long run, insiders say, that could help democratize an industry dominated by major galleries otherwise resistant to change. Meanwhile, many of the world’s leading museums, such as Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, have begun offering new virtual tours. London’s National Gallery, which already boasted a similar feature, clocked a 1,000 percent increase in digital traffic compared to the same time last year.

Back to basics. Others are innovating in the opposite direction. With commercial video and photo shoots on hold, creative agencies are relying more and more on basic tools like user-generated content to realize their ideas. One agency cobbled together a Buffalo Wild Wings ad using video footage of folks playing made-up sports at home. Stock footage and animation are also options, further forcing producers to sharpen their creativity with minimal resources. “It’s a challenge a lot of creatives secretly cherish,” one director told Adweek.

Male influencer recording for video blog about VR goggles

Many of the world’s leading museums, such as Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, have begun offering new virtual tours.

Source Getty

Stay hungry. While restaurants around the world are closing their dining rooms, they’re keeping their kitchens open. Take-away orders and contactless delivery are now the norm — with restaurants from New York to Kyiv offering do-it-yourself assembly kits that allow customers to prep their meals at home. But the shift poses a unique challenge to fine-dining establishments: Adapt to the decidedly less elite format of delivery, or close up shop. Meanwhile, it’s a gravy train for third-party delivery apps, which one Manhattan restaurateur says “have become one of the most powerful forces in the industry.”

New pleasures. The global sex industry is changing too. And in many places, like the Ivory Coast — one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies for the past seven years — it’s facing a major test of survival, OZY reports. Small businesses like massage parlors are still catering to moneyed customers making frantic, last-minute appointments for their guilty pleasures. But now, with streetside solicitation of sex workers bound to diminish, some are sending videos in exchange for mobile money.

WHAT TO READ

Coronavirus: Now Is the Perfect Time to Get Creative, by Grant Stevenson in Stuff

“Just as we gear up for the health emergency, so too we can gear up for the biggest chance for self-development and passive recreation since the invention of the internet.”

How Restaurants Can Survive Right Now, by Rafi Mohammed in Harvard Business Review

“My advice to restaurateurs — after ensuring the safety of their food — is simple: Lower Your Prices Now.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Coronavirus Has Put These People Out of Work

“If I actually go out there and get sick, I’m screwed.”

Watch on VICE News on YouTube:

Media Organizations Get Creative About Coronavirus

“Every network and local news outlet has made dramatic changes in operating procedures, reducing studio crews and making sure anchors are at a safe distance.”

Watch on WGBH News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Keeping the faith. A range of religions have also been forced to adapt in the pandemic. Services — including Buddhist meditation sessions — are being live-streamed on various platforms, while Jehovah’s Witnesses have reportedly stopped going door-to-door, holding smaller meetings where possible. Jewish ceremonies, like bar and bat mitzvahs, have gone virtual too.

Special Briefing: The Next Coronavirus Victim? Civil Liberties

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? Lockdowns and self-isolation might help contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus — but those measures could also play into the hands of governments that weren’t so keen on civil liberties in the first place. Whether in Chile, India or Russia, authorities and protesters alike are navigating uncharted territory to determine just how much this new, COVID-19-induced reality could alter the dynamics of power.

Why does it matter? Even in ordinary times, finding the balance between maintaining order and guaranteeing personal freedoms isn’t exactly easy. So how governments handle this unfolding crisis could speak volumes about their plans for the future.

People wearing face masks in Moscow

A police officer and a man in a gas mask seen in Moscow’s Red Square. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images)

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Momentum matters. Chile’s protesters were likely rattled by President Sebastián Piñera’s announcement yesterday that the military would oversee a 90-day “state of catastrophe” to deal with a local outbreak that’s infected nearly 250 people. For months, they’d staged demonstrations over economic and social inequality that left 31 dead and thousands injured, allegedly by abusive police. And while they compelled the authorities to hold a public referendum on a new constitution in late April, those plans may well be scuttled. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old student who became a rallying point after being blinded by rubber bullets late last year has vowed to press on until Piñera quits. The only question is, how?

Off the streets. India’s protesters, angered by a controversial citizenship law they believe discriminates against Muslims, face a similar challenge. But they appear more defiant: In Delhi, demonstrators affiliated with the female-driven Shaheen Bagh sit-in movement have refused to call off their protests despite an order banning gatherings of more than 50 people. Instead, they’ve demanded that officials tend to those displaced by recent deadly riots in the city. And yesterday, thousands of protesters reportedly turned out in the eastern city of Chennai despite local authorities refusing to sanction such demonstrations. It’s anyone’s guess what might happen after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement Thursday of a “citizens curfew,” which begins Sunday.

Police practice. For leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s looking to extend his two-decade rule, proving he can maintain order is a top priority for his propaganda effort. That’s why a lockdown is great training for his security apparatus, which has recently beefed up its technical capabilities. In Moscow alone, some 200 people have reportedly been caught flouting quarantine rules by facial recognition systems. A member of the Kremlin’s human rights council called it “a happy time” for Russian law enforcement — but one that’s also dangerous for authorities if they flub the moment. Next month, Russia plans to hold a nationwide vote to green-light constitutional tweaks that would effectively allow Putin to hang on through 2036.

CHILE-CRISIS-PROTEST

A demonstrator throws a tear gas can back to Chilean riot police during a protest against Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s government in Santiago. (Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images)

Source Getty

Shifting strategies. Many groups are quickly realizing that it doesn’t take an autocrat to derail protest movements. Climate activists are among them: The Sunrise Movement has told its followers, who advocate for the Green New Deal, to stay off the streets, while prominent teenage climate crusader Greta Thunberg similarly urged her disciples to take their fight online. And while digital democracy is more effective than ever, activists themselves concede it’s just not the same without filling the streets with screaming humans. Says one climate protester: “We’re going to be fighting with one hand tied behind our back.”

Will the West do it better? As Western democracies scramble to enforce their quarantine rules, China’s bragged about how its draconian policies have been a magic bullet against coronavirus. Yesterday, the original epicenter of Wuhan recorded zero new infections for the first time ever. But the West shouldn’t fret. “Wartime democracies are fearsome things,” one political scientist told Axios — arguing that those governments tend to enjoy broader popular mandates, which theoretically make them more powerful.

WHAT TO READ

Sisi and Erdogan Are Accomplices of the Coronavirus, by Steven A. Cook in Foreign Policy

“These are strongmen who command significant amounts of resources, but they are hardly the strong leaders that people need now.”

Trump’s Coronavirus Response Isn’t the Work of a Dictator, by Rich Lowry in National Review

“Trump declared an emergency last week and has now issued national guidelines against gatherings of more than ten people, but his initial instinct was to urge people to stay calm and carry on.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Chile Protesters Move Off Streets Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

“It also means that starting Thursday, the army will be back on the streets — a sensitive decision, given their checkered human rights record.”

Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:

Will Efforts to Combat Spread of Coronavirus Threaten Civil Liberties?

“The real power of government here to handle an epidemic like this that’s not localized in one place, but spreading out throughout the country, is in the state governments. That’s the way our constitution was designed.”

Watch on Fox News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Fight for your right … to party? Despite reports that COVID-19 targets younger people just as much as the elderly, they’re defying official mandates for social distancing by holding “lockdown parties” in places as diverse as Berlin clubs and Argentine beaches. Police are left to bust up speakeasies like it’s 1929.

Setting Cosmic Ambitions for Ukraine

For a man with big space dreams, serial entrepreneur Max Polyakov is unusually focused on Earth. The co-founder of U.S. startup Firefly Aerospace is in no rush to get to Mars. And launching an interstellar space station? Let that remain the stuff of fantasy films. 

“We see Earth as a resource that needs to be saved for humanity, first and foremost,” he says. “That’s our only chance for survival.” And satellites with practical applications — vaulted into orbit atop Firefly-made rockets, of course — will be crucial to that effort, he adds.

But Earth isn’t the only place Polyakov is hoping to rescue. The 42-year-old native Ukrainian is looking to his troubled homeland for technical help: Starting with a research-and-development center in Dnipro, a historically rich hub of rocketry, he’s also hoping to preserve what’s left of the country’s Soviet-era prowess in aerospace. That won’t be easy: The end of the communist superstate in 1991 meant a collapse in both state funding and demand for the kind of rockets that kept the Soviet military competitive during the Cold War.

Toss in the corruption and political volatility that’s plagued Ukraine since independence, and things just haven’t been the same. But a deep-seated intellectual legacy, anchored in decades of top-quality scientific and technical education, fuels hope that Ukraine can soar again — this time, as an independent country. “We’re trying to catch the very last train before it departs, so to speak,” Polyakov says.

What we’re doing in Ukraine is preserving knowledge.

Maxim Polyakov

A lightning-fast talker with a rugby player’s build and a salesman’s disposition, Polyakov is no stranger to launching profitable projects. Before pulling Firefly back from bankruptcy several years ago through his Silicon Valley-based investment firm, Noosphere Ventures, he founded and sold an array of startups in fields like ad tech, online dating and mobile gaming. “He doesn’t enter into projects until he knows his strengths and weaknesses,” says Noosphere co-founder and chairman Michael Ryabokon.

A recent Snopes investigation linked Polyakov to a ring of “deceptive dating companies,” but a Noosphere spokesman called it a “manipulation” orchestrated by early Firefly investors suing him and co-founder Tom Markusic for allegedly driving the company into bankruptcy and forcing them out.

Now Polyakov, a jovial father of four, is hoping to shake up the burgeoning private space industry with Texas-based Firefly by offering reliable and competitively priced delivery systems for satellites. Its first major test comes some time this year, when a 2,200-pound capacity Alpha rocket will send up 26 satellites for a variety of clients, including university research programs and nonprofits, as part of its Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM). Already, demand appears strong, with a current order pipeline of up to $2 billion. At Firefly’s Austin facility, where it employs around 250 people, the company is able to crank out rockets at a rate of eight per year — and hoping to boost that capacity to 24 per year once it builds another factory on Florida’s Space Coast.

But its presence in southeastern Ukraine’s Dnipro, an industrial powerhouse of around 1 million, is equally important. There, some 150 experts are developing the technology that could help launch Firefly to the forefront of the market. It’s the foundation of what Polyakov hopes will be an ever-growing cluster of rich generational know-how, just like the old days. By allowing his employees to live and work “in the cocoon in which they were born and raised,” rather than taking their talents abroad, it boosts their sense of purpose, he adds.

It’s part of a broader company investment in Ukrainian intellect, which is also marked by Noosphere’s partnership with two top-flight universities, the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and Dnipro National University. That union aims to foster student interest in space. “What we’re doing in Ukraine is preserving knowledge,” says Polyakov.

Firefly’s injection in Dnipro, the former beating heart of the Soviet Union’s aerospace industry, couldn’t have come at a better time. Together, the Yuzhmash machine-building plant and its accompanying design bureau, Yuzhnoe, cranked out hundreds of missiles and satellites for the Soviet space and defense programs, lending the sector and its workers an elite status. While work there hasn’t completely ground to a halt, the complex has fallen on hard times since Ukraine gained independence — a reflection of the country’s broader financial misfortunes since the early ’90s.

Launch-Site-20180131095424

Firefly’s Alpha rocket.

Yuzhmash facilities are languishing in disrepair while management hasn’t paid the staff on time. The fact that it’s state-owned, like the rest of the aerospace sector, harms competition and deters otherwise eager foreign investors. “It’s discouraging both for them and our state companies,” says Anastasiya Bolkhovitinova, a Kyiv-based lawyer who specializes in the aerospace industry. Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia, once its key partner and customer, has been particularly bad for business.

But a new law loosens the state’s grip on the sector by allowing private companies and individuals to pursue commercial aerospace activities with state companies. Even before that law was enacted in January, Firefly had already stepped up its partnership with Yuzhmash, having signed a $15 million deal last year for the plant to produce 100 combustion chambers, among other rocket parts. If all parties play their cards right, that could be the beginning of game-changing cooperation for both Ukraine and the private space transportation sector. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy himself has publicly emphasized the importance of the move.

But Polyakov is well aware that nothing’s guaranteed in the rocket business. “Even if a submarine or aircraft carrier fails, you can still pull them back to port and see what went wrong,” he says. Rocketry, on the other hand, is all or nothing — that is, you won’t know you’ve screwed up until your very expensive product blows up in your face. Literally.

Still, that seems worth the risk for Polyakov — and Ukraine’s aerospace dreams may well depend on it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Firefly’s new factory will be near Miami. It will be on Florida’s Space Coast.