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Creativity and Crisis

Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt


The year 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of The AIDS Memorial Quilt and 30 years of life with AIDS. With the introduction of The Quilt in 1987, The NAMES Project Foundation redefined the tradition of quilt making in response to contemporary circumstances. Through hands-on panel-making activities, individuals and communities have come together to remember loved ones, grieve, find support and strength, and engage in dialogues for change.

In 2012, The Quilt contained nearly 48,000 panels, and it had been viewed by more than 18 million people. It is much more than pieced-together fabric squares: it is a moving and monumental creative collaboration; it is a catalyst to remember, understand, educate, and act.

Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt Festival program featured the remarkable artistry, inspiration, and impact of The AIDS Memorial Quilt and provided the public with an unparalleled opportunity to experience this highly charged symbol of the AIDS crisis and the largest community art project in the world. It was the first Festival program to focus exclusively on community craft and performance directly developed in response to crisis and grief. With The AIDS Memorial Quilt as the anchor and through craft demonstrations, dance and musical performances, interactive discussions, and other activities, this program commemorated the innovative and resourceful ways through which communities have endeavored to educate people and to cope with one of the most complex pandemics in modern history.

The Festival brought together approximately 100 visual artists, designers, quilters, dancers, musicians, community activists, and others who shared the knowledge and creativity that shape their efforts to disseminate the message of the AIDS crisis. Quilt panel-making groups demonstrated and taught a variety of traditional quilting techniques. Volunteers and staff from The NAMES Project Foundation performed the rituals surrounding new panels and Quilt displays. The program also featured other artistic responses to the AIDS crisis from the United States and South Africa, and presented moderated conversations with project contributors, community leaders, and pioneers. Festival venues served as sites for sharing and documenting visitors’ personal stories and creative expressions related to living in the age of HIV and AIDS.

Visitors of all ages had the opportunity to learn quilting techniques, make panels, and share stories from their own experiences. Sections of The Quilt were displayed throughout the Festival site, incorporated into the various demonstration and performance venues, and laid out on the National Mall— reinforcing The Quilt’s size, visual impact, and the scale and diversity of people impacted by HIV and AIDS.

Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt program at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival was a partnership between the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and The NAMES Project Foundation, with the support and participation of many others.

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