AIDS quilt on display, coincides with UF's common reading selection

A section of the AIDS Memorial quilt is seen at the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida on Friday, July 5, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.

For the seventh year running, incoming first-year students at the University of Florida have been assigned some summer reading before they start their first semester.

But this is the first year that an exhibit at the Harn Museum of Art relates directly to the subject of the book selected for the Common Reading Program.

“We always participate with the Common Reading Program,” said Eric Segal, education curator of academic programs at the Harn Museum. “This is first time we’ve had an installation directly related to that programming.”

The book is “A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka,” by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a native of Uganda who is the director of development at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The book tells how Kaguri returned to his village in Uganda to build a school for AIDS orphans.

The exhibit is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, of which five 12-foot by 12-foot panels hang in the Chandler Auditorium at the Harn. A sixth panel hangs in the Reitz Union.

“We are honored to have been selected as a host site for the AIDS Memorial Quilt as the university community comes together to discuss this year’s Common Reading Program book,” Jarrod Cruz-Stipsits, director of intercultural engagement for UF, said in a news release.

Cruz was instrumental in bringing the quilt to UF, Segal said.

Each year a committee of students, faculty and staff selects a book for incoming students so they can share a collective experience, said Alison Spannaus, assistant director for New Student and Family Programs in the Dean of Students Office.

The books selected must be relevant to a variety of majors so most students can relate to it, not just business, or liberal arts, or engineering majors, she said.

At the student convocation on Aug. 19, the students will get to hear from the author himself, Spannaus said.

“One thing we try to do is have a book where the author can come to campus,” she said.

The quilt exhibit mirrors the book’s theme, she said.

“This is a book that connects to nearly every major on campus,” she said.

The Common Reading Program originated through the Dean of Students Office, and is based on a nationwide program to provide a common experience for incoming students. Most of the books deal with multicultural or global issues, like the growing water shortage, hunger and AIDS.

Past books include Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” about a doctor who tried to improve health care in Haiti; Luis Alberto Urrea’s “Devil’s Highway,” about immigrants starting a new life in a new country; and “Outcasts United,” Warren St. John’s story of a soccer team of refugee boys outside Atlanta.

Most of the books are true stories about people who have overcome adversity, or set a goal to make a difference and showed how they accomplished that, Spannaus said.

The Harn exhibit is designed to get students thinking about how the book and the quilt relate to each other, Segal said. “We’re interested in asking students to think about how the two resonate, the context in Uganda and the context in America and how the two cultural expressions (book and quilt) resonate with each other,” Segal said.

The next Museum Night on Aug. 8 will also incorporate the quilt. Called “Facing It,” the Museum Night is centered around the museum’s portrait exhibit.

“I have an intern working with Jarrod on programming that connects with the quilts and portraiture,” Segal said. “Each panel is a portrait of a beloved individual, family member, friend that died of AIDS. We want the visitor to connect with the quilt — not too morose, not too light, but strike just the right note. We want it to be thoughtful and engaging without being lugubrious.”

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