One of several activity tents in the Creativity and Crisis program was the “Kids Create!” tent, dedicated to allowing children, youth, and families to participate in craft workshops and explore their own creativity as it relates to HIV/AIDS. Drawing from their own work with the AIDS Memorial Quilt, two talented textile artists, Marquetta Bell-Johnson and Rasheeda Burston, led daily workshops instructing children on how to make miniature quilt panels and yo-yos, which are a type of decorative quilt embellishment. Interns and volunteers taught older children how to make worry dolls out of toothpicks and thread, while the youngest visitors were guided in creating paper ribbons and making their own red awareness ribbons out of pipe cleaners and beads.
Both Rasheeda and Marquetta had backgrounds in quilting before they became involved with The AIDS Memorial Quilt. The two volunteer their time as facilitators at the Atlanta chapter of “Call My Name,” a workshop formed by The NAMES Project Foundation in response to the underrepresentation of African Americans in The Quilt. Call My Name is devoted to building awareness surrounding those impacted by HIV/AIDS in African American communities and encourages its participants to create panels for their lost loved ones. As panel-making facilitators, Rasheeda and Marquetta talk to participants about the people they have lost and, based on these interactions, offer suggestions for how they can decorate and personalize their panels.
Rasheeda, a fourth-generation artist who learned how to sew from her grandmother, is a fiber artist and quilter with a passion for HIV/AIDS activism. Clearly informed by her extensive experience as a panel maker and facilitator, Rasheeda expertly engaged antsy groups of children and guided them through the process of making miniature quilt panels, which introduced them to the basics of quilting by hand. Each child used fabric markers to decorate a square of muslin with a design of their own, which was then sewn to another section of muslin around a small square of batting. The resulting panels were a fun and unique expression of the children’s own creative interpretations. Rasheeda’s activity was the perfect opportunity to introduce young artists and their families to the techniques used to craft panels for The AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Marquetta has been involved with Call My Name since its founding five years ago, and is well known for her skillful yo-yo creations. She grew up in a family of fiber artists—her great-grandmother and grandmother were quilters, and her parents were tailors—so it was no surprise that her talent and passion shone throughout her workshops at the Festival. She has earned the title of “Yo-Yo Queen” for making over 2,000 yo-yos. An ideal yo-yo making instructor, Marquetta taught both young and old visitors how to turn ordinary squares of printed fabric into beautiful and colorful circular medallions, decorated with buttons and beads. “I feel it's very important to educate children about sewing and about the AIDS pandemic,” Marquetta said in an interview at the “Kids Create!” tent. “Because a lot of times, I find children might have misconceptions, so we get a chance to really talk about how this disease affects many people.” Her work with families at the 2012 Folklife Festival is but one example of how Marquetta has successfully taken what she calls, “something that could be a real solemn experience” and started associating it with a more “joyous experience” to celebrate the lives of those lost to HIV/AIDS.
Overall, the “Kids Create!” tent was a place where people of all ages could come together and make their own unique artistic contributions to the Creativity and Crisis program. Although hectic and messy at times, the various crafting activities taught children about the important role that creativity plays in the way that communities deal with tragedy. Additionally, it allowed them to learn fun new skills while creating their own Festival souvenirs. Thanks to the hard work of Marquetta, Rasheeda, and numerous energetic volunteers and interns, the Creativity and Crisis program came to life and addressed HIV/AIDS in a family-friendly way. As Marquetta aptly explained, “Quilting is a very important medium to be used for this particular endeavor. It gives a person a soft place to make that leap into creating a panel, or thinking about this disease.”