Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture

Exhibition Dates:
February 8, 2016 to March 14, 2016

This exhibit brings together many different voices to document AIDS. We are grateful for the support of the Pierce County Aids Foundation (PCAF), the National Library of Medicine Exhibits Program, Professor Janet Marcavage and her talented students, Kim McDowell, former Director of Career and Employment Services, and the NAMES Project Foundation.  (Featured in the News Tribune: Review: UPS’ Collins library tells multimedia story of living (and dying) with HIV/AIDS.)

In 1981, AIDS appeared in the United States. The infectious “rare cancer” bewildered researchers and bred suspicion, but the worry was not the same for everyone. Many feared contact with those who were ill. Others feared for their lives and the lives of loved ones. An entire generation was deeply affected by AIDS; their stories, art, and actions make up this exhibition.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, created by a small group of strangers in 1987 to remember those who died of AIDS and help people understand the devastating impacts of the disease is just one of many responses to the epidemic. The section on display here includes the square devoted to Scott McDowell, a talented artist whose life was cut short due to AIDS. His pottery, featured in the exhibition, reveals the intimate effects that AIDS can have on the infected. Scott was the brother of Kim McDowell, retired Director of Career and Employment Services here at Puget Sound. 

Organizations continue to support those affected and educate our community. PCAF has kindly shared portions of art projects that honor and memorialize those who have lost their lives or have been affected by the illness. These thoughtful examples show how the power of art can contribute to healing and to preserving a memory of a loved one.

Students Molly Agan, Katharine Etsell, Jess Evans, Leanne Gan, Ally Hembree, Matt Hufford, Elizabeth King, Shannon Leahy, Gabriel Lennon, and Hailey Shoemaker in Janet Marcavage’s printmaking class worked to support Art, AIDS, America, the groundbreaking exhibit held at the Tacoma Art Museum in fall of 2015. Their prints, featured here, showcase student response to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. The informational panels provided by the National Library of Medicine provide a timeline of AIDS in our nation. The title Surviving and Thriving comes from a book written in 1987 by and for people with AIDS that insisted people could live with AIDS, not just die from it.

This exhibition presents the stories of all those affected by AIDS – the infected, their families, supporters, descendants, and friends. Listen to their voices, contemplate their art, and consider the magnitude and impact of AIDS on our society and culture. 

In conjunction with the exhibit, Adrian A. Kljucec, student dramaturg for the upcoming production of RENT at Puget Sound (directed by Professor Jess Smith),  created a display that contextualizes the show with quotes, charts, images, and artifacts related to AIDS, addiction, and other core themes. RENT, which premiered in 1993 and received a Tony award, focuses on a group of friends struggling to survive  in New York City under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.