PIECING COMMUNITIES BACK TOGETHER: THE CREATORS OF THE QUILT STORY EXCHANGE EXPLAIN THEIR WORK
Ashton Page and Claire Fredrick are community artists based in Baltimore, a city known for having more than its fair share of violent crime. With violent crime comes, of course, people who have been traumatized. Both artists have decided to embark on a unique quilting project that will create spaces of peace and healing in the city. Together, they tell us about the work of the Quilt Story Exchange.
Claire and Ashton, please explain to our readers your project.
The Quilt Story Exchange will bring together groups of people, specifically groups of women, to create quilts that represent stories of trauma, hope, survival, and joy. Not only will the project give individuals a platform to share their stories, but the project hopes to promote the independence of those who are or once were victims of trauma, by providing an in-depth experience with quilting and fiber art in an emotionally supportive environment. In partnership with four organizations, the project will provide space for people to exercise their own creativity and leadership and act as empowered role models for others who have confronted traumatic situations. For each organization that we work with we hope to make one large scale quilt that represents the participant’s collective story of survival. The fifth quilt, a traveling quilt, will move between all four organizations, and be added to. This fifth quilt will become a narrative of many different survivors of trauma.
Please explain to our readers, the impetus for this project and why you feel it is necessary to do this project right now?
We both live and work in Baltimore. Living and working within certain neighborhoods and communities in the city we came to realize that people are often forced to deal with traumatic events all the time, but usually alone and without proper support. We came to realize, as community artists, that oftentimes people do not have the language to define what trauma looks like or to even begin to identify that trauma is affecting them in their daily lives. In our day to day struggle, many people are worried enough about caring for children, paying bills, making sure they have a home to come back to, without the added burden of processing the many ways that they have experienced or been affected by traumatic events. Even worse, most people are unable to explore past or current traumatic events because of a greater need to be in a present survival/survivor mode. Our belief is that one cannot grieve from trauma in isolation; in order to heal we must band together to constructively unpack our feelings in order to find a place of peace. Our project provides different community groups with a safe space to begin exploring traumatic events through arts related activities. We believe that such a setting can help provoke thoughtful, meaningful, and ultimately healing discussions.
Why do you feel that a collaborative quilt project is the best format to realize this project?
Historically, quilting has been the reason for people to come together, to share in a creative process, and in turn support one another. As two community artists we think that connecting people together is important, especially when those people are dealing with similar issues. The act of making provokes contemplation and hopefully healing. But this project is so much more than dealing with trauma. It is also a ways of bringing people together. The spaces that we are looking to create, we believe, will allow individuals to understand each other on a different level and hopefully in these spaces people will get to hear unique perspectives other than their own. Through this work we are looking to strengthen fractured communities.
Which are the four community organizations that you have chosen to work with?
Gaudenzia helps people affected by chemical dependency, mental illness, and related conditions to achieve a better quality of life. We are working with women from Roberta’s House, a grief and loss center, and we plan to run workshops with Guadenzia’s live-in population.
We are also working with Martha’s Place, a program for women overcoming drug abuse and homelessness,in the neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester and Upton.
Amazing Grace Lutheran Church’s “The Revolution Within” is a new program addressing violence in East Baltimore by offering mental health counseling and alternative healing and meditative methods.
The Church of the Guardian Angel is an inner city church located in North Baltimore working with the youth and adults in the local neighborhood to offer programs that best meet the needs of the community.
Lastly, there seems to be a revival of quilt-making recently. How do you explain this?
When it comes to social justice quilting, we have to thank the AIDS Quilt for this revival. There is also a long history of political activism and banner hanging that also goes in line with this kind of work. In regards to our project, there is an old way of thinking that resonates with us. When you put together a quilt top, it is called piecing. In the past when a loved one would die, the women would collect the garments of the deceased and turn them into a quilt. Instead of spelling it piecing with ie, they would spell it “peacing” with an ea. They were making peace with death, with their loss, and with the trauma that followed. We find this notion of making peace especially relevant to anyone overcoming something difficult. Together, we are making order out of chaos by being diligent, dedicated, and open to sharing with each other. We are both “piecing” and “peacing” communities back together.