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Reflections from the Festival: The Smithsonian Block

Kathleen Mead from the Smithsonian Office of Government Relations is leading the efforts of over 100 staff who are creating a block for The AIDS Memorial Quilt. The Smithsonian block took hold from a conversation with James Early about acknowledging Smithsonian colleagues we have lost to AIDS through a 3’ x 6’ panel that staff could work on throughout the ten days of the Festival. This panel would also be a show of support and solidarity from the Smithsonian community to everyone involved in the AIDS struggle. In true Smithsonian spirit, the 3’ x 6’ panel quickly grew into a wonderfully massive 12’ x 12’ block with the Smithsonian Castle front and center, and sections representing The AIDS Memorial Quilt in the foreground.

During the early years of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, Kathleen Mead had been a volunteer, working with a group in a small office in D.C. When she heard about this project last Spring, she jumped into action—putting out a call and convening a group of enthusiastic craftspeople to help. Not everyone in the group had experience with quilting, but some came with skills in textile arts and all came with a passion for the mission. “The Quilting Bee”—Kathleen and whoever is available—now meets almost every Wednesday and Friday evening in the offices of several Smithsonian units, to iron backing onto material, put grommets in scale-model panels, stitch on crocheted trees and bushes, sew down portions of the Smithsonian Castle, have light-hearted conversation, but also to talk about personal experiences with the AIDS crisis.

Upon its completion, the Smithsonian block will be displayed within the Institution for staff before it is sent to The NAMES Project Foundation in Atlanta to be included in The AIDS Memorial Quilt.

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