Last September, twenty Karen students – most from camps along the Thai-Burma border and all now attending Benson High School and part of Omaha Public Schools’ ESL/Refugee and Migrant Education program – made Joslyn Art Museum their home. The students participated in a five-day quilt workshop during National Welcoming Week, a time focused on bringing people together in unity and friendship. Guided by volunteer quilters, each teen created two squares – a memory of their homeland and a dream for their future – to contribute to the “Dreams & Memories” story quilt now on view at the Museum. The workshop provided a unique opportunity for everyone involved to connect and learn through a shared creative experience.
In February, the completed quilt was “unveiled” with joyful fanfare! Students and quilters, family and friends, and the general public came together to view the quilt and hear stories reflected in the finished piece. Attendees enjoyed performances of a Karen song and a traditional dance, and they heard one young man recount how his original hesitation about participating in the project had ultimately turned to disappointment, as a thing he had come to love was coming to an end. But it doesn’t end. This group of students will return to see an exhibition, participate in other art-making experience, and share a meal. And, now that their families have been welcomed to the Museum, and they know that it is free to them, any day, hopefully they will find themselves at home at Joslyn, time and time again.
Joslyn’s project is part of The Quilted Conscience Project, which began in Grand Island, NE, hometown of the project director, John Sorensen, with a quilt made by Sudanese immigrants. The project continues in Grand Island and has moved east to Lincoln and, most recently, to Omaha. Through April 25, you can see the Omaha Karen quilt and five “newcomer quilts,” made by Grand Island Public School children from around the world, at Joslyn; the Lincoln Karen quilt at W. Dale Main Library, Omaha Public Library; and the original Grand Island Sudan quilt at KANEKO.
The Quilted Conscience Project honors the living legacy of Nebraska born-and-raised social justice pioneer Grace Abbott and is guided by her words: “Justice for all children is the high ideal in a democracy.”
The project at Joslyn is a testament to the meaningful impact art museums can have on the lives of all people in a community. It is one small piece of Joslyn’s overall Community Outreach programming, which, through partnership and collaboration, aims to provide unique opportunities for individuals to connect with art. Joslyn relies on the generosity of donors in the community to support programs like The Quilted Conscience Project. And, truly, it takes a village… thanks to all the project partners: the volunteer quilters, Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska is Home, You’re Welcome in Omaha, Lutheran Family Services, Heartland Family Service, and others who kindly contributed.
Nancy Round, Director of Education & Outreach