Creativity and Crisis

Artists Against AIDS

For thirty years, artists have been on the front lines of the AIDS pandemic. Since the early years of the epidemic, a staggering number of performers, writers, and designers succumbed to AIDS, depriving the world of their enormous creative potential. Artists responded by raising funds, awareness, and hope with the most powerful weapon in their arsenal—their art.

In 1991, the Red Ribbon Project was created by the New York-based Visual AIDS Artists Caucus. The artists who formed the Caucus wanted to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American service men and women serving in the Gulf War, the color red was chosen for its “connection to blood and the idea of passion—not only anger, but love, like a valentine.” First worn publicly by Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards, the ribbon became a fashion accessory on the lapels of celebrities, and is now recognized as an international symbol of AIDS awareness.

The performing stage of the Creativity and Crisis program is called Red Hot. Its name draws  inspiration from the Red Hot Organization, founded in 1989, which was among the many efforts organized by artists to combat the AIDS pandemic. Organizations such as Red Hot and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS continue to use performing arts and popular culture to fight HIV/AIDS. Around the world, artists use spoken word and theater as avenues for outreach and education within communities. On stage, they bring their experiences to life in ways that make audience members with similar stories feel less isolated and inspire others to take action against the disease.

Plays and musicals such as Angels in America and Rent express the pain and sorrow of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS while simultaneously educating the broader public about the disease. Youth-targeted performing arts also include HIV/AIDS education and support, most recognizably with the introduction in 2002 of Kami, the first HIV-positive Muppet, who appears in the South African TV show Takalani Sesame. This character created a means through which children around the globe could learn about and discuss what it is like to grow up in the era of AIDS.

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Matthew Carlson performs as Prior Walter in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Angels in America: Part 1 Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner, which ran from January 29 through March 6, 2011. Photo by Jon Gardiner

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