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An Update from Van Alen

March 20, 2020

To the Van Alen community—

Along with all of you, we’ve been consumed by the news and growing impact of COVID-19. We hope you, your families, and your communities are staying safe and checking in with each other as much as you can.

First, some housekeeping:

Van Alen Institute is closed to the public and our staff is working from home. We look forward to welcoming you into our new Gowanus home when we’re able and are planning some fun events to inaugurate our space later this year. In the meantime, we’re considering how to use our space to live-stream programs or facilitate other virtual events to serve and support our communities.

Our next Van Alen Book Club, originally scheduled for March 31, is cancelled. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have a new date. For now, we’re keeping our April Book Club on the calendar, and we’ll confirm closer to the date.

We’ve added a two week extension to Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge, our design competition in collaboration with the New York City Council. The new deadline for submissions is Sunday, April 19 by 11:59 pm ET and finalists will receive $3,000 (Young Adults category) and $13,000 (Professionals category). There is no requirement to work together in person at this stage, and we strongly encourage participating teams to collaborate digitally and follow social distancing guidelines. We understand your workflows have been disrupted, so if you need guidance on how to proceed, contact us at competitions@vanalen.org.

Sketch it out! If you’re in a creative slump, take a quick sketch break and share it with us. We’ll post our favorites on Instagram and in our next newsletter. Today’s prompt: Many of you are working remotely—what do you see from your work-from-home setup? Just snap a photo of your sketch and DM it to us on Instagram (we’re @van_alen) or email us at vai@vanalen.org.

Crises can be switching points…

At this moment of distancing and isolation, it may seem odd to be thinking about togetherness—and yet that’s exactly what we’re doing. Recent events have brought the need for increased social resilience into painfully sharp focus. Everyone needs a reliable support network—people who share news, help shop for groceries or medication, run errands, provide emotional support, make you laugh. This kind of support is especially important in under-resourced communities, which are particularly vulnerable to gaps in care flowing from our disjointed healthcare, employment, and housing systems.

As a small nonprofit, we know we’re not able to solve the largest structural problems ourselves. At a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Foundation recently announced the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, intended to raise funds to aid countries responding to the pandemic. Locally, we at Van Alen, along with our colleagues across the city, are thinking how to provide direct relief in the short term, and how to imagine, advocate for, design, and create better systems for the long-term strength of our community. We’ll be thinking and acting on these long-term goals in coming months, and will keep you posted.

In the meantime, we recommend sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he observes that “crises can be switching points for states and societies, and the coronavirus pandemic could well be the moment when the United States rediscovers its better, collective self.” To hasten that rediscovery of our better selves, Klinenberg offers some immediate suggestions:

“Develop lists of local volunteers who can contact vulnerable neighbors. Provide them companionship. Help them order food and medications. Recruit teenagers and college students to teach digital communications skills to older people with distant relatives and to deliver groceries to those too weak or anxious to shop. Call the nearest homeless shelter or food pantry and ask if it needs anything.”

Hoping you stay safe, healthy, and connected,

Deborah Marton, Executive Director, and the Van Alen team