Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

July 16, 2020; New York Times

The city of Detroit has an eclectic and rich history of art. One of the standouts is, of course, the years 1932 and 1933, when Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo spent time in the city. While in Detroit, Kahlo refined her artistic style and Rivera created one of his most accomplished mural cycles: Detroit Industry. Nearly 90 years later, the murals still prominently grace the walls of a courtyard at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA).

While paying homage to the murals is part of nearly every visit to the DIA, no one would have predicted that you could also see Diego’s work on a face mask at your local farmers market or during a daycare drop-off. Welcome to the summer of COVID where necessity meets fashion and individuality.

From Seattle to Denmark, nonprofit museums are reopening slowly and safely. From a front door with social distancing markers to the gift shop, they are mirroring a world that has changed drastically since the doors shut in March. The DIA is one of many museums easing into reopening. They have limited hours, and tickets are free. During shutdown, the DIA’s website proclaims, they joined forces with a textile collaborative in the Midwest to create well-designed, comfortable, art-inspired masks.

While Diego’s murals are ready for viewing at the DIA, you won’t be seeing the face masks for sale anytime soon on the DIA website—they’re sold out. The museum has plans to restock in July.

The National Gallery claims that masks have been their biggest seller since reopening nearly ten days ago. They are one of many museums offering a variety of art on reusable masks, from Monet to Ambrosius Bosschaert. Some masks, like The Scream by Edvard Munch, could even visually express your inner frustrations in a world that can’t see your facial expressions right now.

The math is simple. The CDC recommends that people wear “a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth when out in their community,” thus face masks that can be washed and reused have become essential articles of clothing. They are necessary for safety, so why not choose one that supports your favorite nonprofit? As DIA patron Susannah Burke explained, “No one really wants to wear a mask, but since you have to, this mask makes an art statement.”

They are also a way to support local museums, galleries, and gardens, which rely on gift shop and on-site donations to fund often slim operating budgets, while complying with CDC recommendations. As National Gallery patron Alison Ripley, pointed out “You’ve got to make masks funky if you want youngsters to wear them.”

She urged the National Gallery to spice up their offerings, perhaps even venturing away from muted florals to more risqué takes on art like Velázquez’s “The Toilet of Venus,” which shows the goddess lying naked on a bed.—Carrie Collins-Fadell