Hey Creative Friend,
One of the things I love to do is read artist autobiographies and interviews. The other day, I was reading an interview of the feminist artist – Judy Chicago. I learned a ton about her from that interview. When I get the chance, I’m going to share a lot more of what I learned about her with you.
However, for now, I want to share just one thing about her work that I found really fascinating. It’s a community art project that she created called The International Honor Quilt.
I was thrilled to read about this. The thing is, I believe that a community art project is a really fun way for artists to get other people to experience art in their own personal way.
In 2019, I organized a community art project for the city of Milford, CT to go along with my solo exhibition Drawn with Threads. And I must say, to date, that’s the most meaningful exhibition I’ve hosted.
There’s something special that happens when you give everyday people the opportunity to express themselves and create something that is considered “art”. It just lights people up and brings out a part of themselves that they didn’t think existed.
The International Honor Quilt
So, what’s the International Honor Quilt all about? In the seventies, Judy Chicago had created a provocative feminist art installation called The Dinner Party. It is a ceremonial banquet arranged on a triangular table.
There were 39 place settings on the table. Each of them honored one artist. 999 women who didn’t make it on to the table had their names inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the table.
The purpose of the installation was to honor female artists because women are not given the recognition they deserve. The installation was both provocative and popular. It toured the world. Subsequently, The Dinner party was permanently installed at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
One of the criticisms it had though, was that it didn’t include the names of enough female artists who all deserved to be honored.
As a result, Judy Chicago decided to create this project – The International Honor Quilt. This project gave people an opportunity make their own quilts to honor someone of their choosing. That project also became wildly successful.
At the time of Judy Chicago’s interview, they had received a total of 700 quilts from around the world. You’ve got to take some time to explore them for yourself.
A wonderful scholar named Marilee Schmit Nason, from Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, decided to initiate an effort to catalogue information on each of the quilt makers. As a result, there’s an amazing wealth of information on each little quilt in the big piece. I got lost in there while reading the inspiration of several of the contributors. Here are two examples:
Laura Baker, a writer from California, wanted to honor Joy Adamson. Adamson who after decades of living in Kenya, raised an orphaned lion cub called Elsa and then set it free. Adamson also authored several books including the bestseller – “Born Free” which was later adapted into film. Here’s the quilt in her honor.
Individual Quilts in this Community Art Project
Another woman, Susan Orange, from Ann Arbor, MI decided to honor all female artists. This is part of her statement:
“Too often women are not taught or encouraged to take themselves, their lives, their dreams or their creations seriously”.Susan Orange
Then she continues to say,
“Our image as serious artists needs to be strengthened, not only by society but by ourselves as well”.Susan Orange
I loved it. This is exactly why I teach and coach women to make time for themselves, so that they can do their best creative work. There’s so much we can do. If we only believe that we’re worthy of investing the time and money in our own creative development.
Here’s the quilt by Susan Orange
There are so many gems in that collection. I encourage you to explore the International Honor Quilt.
Furthermore, if you’re someone who shares your work, consider doing a community art project. Community art projects bring so much meaning to a community. They connect people together and leave a piece of artwork that is cherished by so many because they were involved in making it.
Also, more often than not, your community project will likely end up being preserved and protected because of what it stands for and what it means to the community. As an example, my community art project for the city of Milford, Connecticut is permanently installed in the town’s library.
The International Honor Quilt is Featured on PBS
Below, you can view a 5 minutes video interview and presentation of the honor quilts on the PBS show, “Sewing with Nancy”. Here’s the video
Five Things to Do to Create Your Own Community Art Project
If you want to create your own community project, here are five things to do:
- Find a community partner, for example, the library, a youth center, the town, a special interest group like a women’s group, a sports team, etc.
- Come up with an interesting idea that focuses on the community or group you identified
- Draw out a plan with the specifics of how you envision the project will be carried out
- Present your plan to the stakeholders or community leaders and share your vision to get their approval and commitment. Be willing to tweak your plan to suit the stakeholders
- Deliver on your promise. Remember: you’ll need help from others to make this come together. Judy Chicago didn’t do it by herself. Don’t try to go it alone.
Note, the better you’re able to paint a picture of your vision in your plan and your subsequent meeting, the more likely that you’ll get the support you need. As an artist, you can visualize what you want to create. Others can’t. So, you’ll have to paint that vision for them in order for them to buy in.
Finally, if you want to create art that’s not all about you, I hope you’ll consider creating a community art project for your community.
Question: What apprehensions do you have about creating a community art project? Ask questions below and I’ll answer them.