With 300 patches on a single blanket, Harlem residents grappling with AIDS will soon have proof that they are not alone.
On Dec. 1, in honor of World AIDS Day, The Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, in partnership with Danny Tisdale of Harlem’s Tisdale Studio, launched the Harlem AIDS Blanket Project—a massive artistic program to raise awareness of AIDS in Harlem through neighborhood-based collaboration.
TC and Tisdale are now in the process of setting up partnerships with local schools and community organizations that will all contribute in March to the creation of a single blanket expected in June.
Organizers hope the blanket will have at least 300 unique patches with different designs inspired by the issue of AIDS.
For Tisdale, the artistic designer, the Blanket Project is an opportunity to make the neighborhood more aware of AIDS in Harlem, which he said has affected him on a personal level. “I have lost quite a few friends to AIDS, and this project spoke to their situation,” Tisdale said.
Art, he added, is a useful method to confront such a prevalent neighborhood concern. “Artwork is a great democratic tool where you can create and say what you want,” Tisdale said.
Veronica Holly, IUME assistant director, said that the project was not only about artistic collaboration, but also a way to encourage action surrounding AIDS. “We want young people to start thinking about it, get involved, and get tested,” she said.
Alexander “Sandy” Pope, one of the project managers from IUME, added that he hopes the collaborative blanket will help people speak up. “The project will dispel the whole, ‘I’m in this on my own’ myth,” Pope said.
Several schools and community-based organizations have already expressed interest. Wadleigh High School on 114th Street at Adam Clayton Powell is in the early planning stages with project coordinators. Paul McIntosh, a Wadleigh librarian who has been in contact with IUME, said, “I hope this project will empower the young people intellectually and spiritually, and inspire them to embrace possibility within the self to learn and broaden their intellectual license through many forms of media and art.”
For McIntosh, artistic collaboration is empowering. He said he looks forward to witnessing “living, breathing souls who are transformed by being a part of it.”
Tisdale echoed McIntosh, saying that the project is about connecting people through a lasting work of art.
For Teachers College, the partnership is an opportunity to give back to the neighborhood. Holly said, “This project provides support in the Harlem community, and they need that.”
Pope agreed, saying that with more than 100,000 people in New York City who know they have AIDS, there are likely also many infected people who don’t know they have it. The project will help these populations become educated, he said.
Tisdale also expressed frustration with inaction surrounding AIDS, which was part of his motivation for starting this program. “I can complain all I want, but it’s different when you can put money and artwork into where your mouth is,” he said, “Partnering with people interested in a common cause makes a great statement.”
In this sense, he hopes the blanket can be a message to the neighborhood that people should take control of their own lives. “Our goals are really simple—we are not trying to send a rocket to the moon. We are asking individuals to be conscious of what they decide to do, to think about their options, and about protecting their future.”
Story by Gila Schwarzschild; available here.