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From protective equipment to canvas

Hoboken Historical Museum starts mask-as-art contest

Jersey City artist Frank Hanavan displays one of his submissions to the Hoboken Historical Museum's contest "Every Mask a Blank Canvas.”

The Hoboken Historical Museum invites all Hudson County artists to transform standard disposable face masks into one-of-a-kind artworks and submit them to the museum for an upcoming exhibition: “Every Mask a Blank Canvas.” The museum will award one winner a $250 prize.

“People are home and they are restless,” said Bob Foster, director of the museum. “So we are trying do a little project that’s not too complicated. Everyone has a temporary mask and they can get those masks easily, so we wanted everyone to have the same canvass size, same template, and see what they can do with it.”

But Foster says it’s more than just a competition, as these will be artifacts of the time in which the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city and county.

“We started a program just recently about collecting for COVID, which is primarily interviews with people and photographs, but when it came to artifacts there wouldn’t be many maybe signs and things, so we are almost creating artifacts with these masks which will be one of the icons of this time,” said Foster. “Every object tells a story and I’m hoping these masks tell a story of what’s happening in world right now.

He said typically museums wait to begin collecting artifacts because often they need the distance and objectivity but since September 11, museums began collecting much earlier often while still reacting to the historical moment.


The mask contest is also a way for the museum to engage the community even if at a distance.

“All throughout last couple months we’ve been trying to do something that breaks through all this stuff, all this haze, and I’ll think I’ve got this great idea and we will do it and then no one notices because we are all understandably focused on our own mental health and helping people, but this seems to be getting more of a reaction,” said Foster, who noted that the museum already has about 25 mask submissions.

Foster added that museum has developed some online programming such as videos of lectures, historical films, some instructional videos but “that doesn’t get my blood going.”

“We can’t engage with people,” said Foster. “We can’t show what we do in person and that’s very confining. It is hard go gauge a reaction when you can’t see people. There are some advantages to online programming. I just haven’t found them yet.”

How to enter

Artists interested in being a part of the contest should use the standard disposable face masks found at most drug stores, unused of course, and may submit more than one entry.

“It’s whatever people want to do,” said Foster. “It can be something that speaks to them visually, it can be something that speaks to the time.”

The masks will be displayed in the museum walkway in enclosed cases and the museum will also display them at a future exhibit.

Anyone in Hudson County can submit a mask, including children.

They will be evaluated by a group of museum curators who will pick a winner, and that winner will receive a $250 prize.

Submissions should be signed by the artist, accompanied by contact information and an optional artist’s statement about the work, and mailed to the Hoboken Historical Museum, P.O. Box 3296, Hoboken, NJ 07030. All masks must be postmarked by June 15, 2020. There is no cost to enter the contest.

Artists who are active on social media are encouraged to share photos of themselves or a friend wearing the mask and tag the Museum, @HobokenMuseum, using the hashtag #EveryMaskABlankCanvas.

Foster said, should it be popular the museum may have a second contest which could be state wide and if the museum gets some form of additional sponsorship their could be more prizes and winners.

For more information email director@hobokenmuseum.org.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.


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