Vashon World AIDS Day teaches through art, theatre and more

Community commemorates World AIDS Day through various programs.

For the third year in a row, Vashon World AIDS Day is commemorating International AIDS Day with a series of special programming, with several focused on students.

These events include a staged reading of Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-nominated play “Mothers and Sons,” a presentation to McMurray Middle School 7th graders about young women in Africa who experience the highest rate of HIV/AIDS anywhere in the world, a recreation of AIDS activist Vito Russo’s 1988 speech “Why We Fight” by the Vashon High School Drama Club and a “Crash Course in Activist Art” exhibit made by Vashon High School AP Art students.

Peter Serko, the founder of Vashon World AIDS Day, stressed how important art was during the AIDS epidemic and to the activist movement.

“Art became a very, very important way of communicating and sharing messages,” said Serko. “So what we wanted to do with these AP Art students was one, show them a story of AIDS during that time…and then help them to see how their art played a big role in that in the idea being their art can influence as well.”

“Crash Course in Activist Art” is particularly interesting this year, as students are encouraged to create COVID-19 related art. Students were also given the option to create pieces focused on other topics that concern them, such as climate change or LGBTQ issues, said Serko.

“We really wanted to try and draw a connection with COVID, the thing that they’re experiencing right now, because there’s just so many parallels between COVID and the AIDS epidemic, particularly early on,” said Serko. “Controversy associated with it, the inaction and misinformation and all of that happened then.”

Serko, who also worked with artist West McLean on the activist art exhibit, said they wanted to be able to give students the “opportunity to express their feelings, their experience, whatever it might be related to COVID.”

The students’ art will be on display at the Blue Heron Art Center from December 2-30 in the main floor entryway. In addition to the students’ work, photos by islander Dana Schuerholtz, an AIDS activist and documentary photographer, will be on display.

For Serko, teaching students about the AIDS epidemic is important as “you never know how these things resonate with people and what little door you’re opening for students.”

Particularly, Serko said showing students that their actions can make a difference is key — the AIDS activist movement is an excellent example.

“We try to go about it in a lot of different ways, and it’s a very different way than most AIDS education, said Serko. “We’re not really talking about prevention, we’re not talking about any of that stuff. We’re just talking about history and activism and what you can do.”

The complete World AIDS Day calendar of events is as follows.

Crash Course In Activist Art Exhibit

Dec. 2-30, Blue Heron Art Center;

Vashon artists West McLean and Peter Serko collaborated with VHS AP art students to create activist art drawing on the students’ experience with COVID.

Why We Fight video collaboration

Dec. 2 premiere, at Blue Heron Art Center;

Vashon High School Drama Club students recreated the speech known as “Why We Fight,” given by AIDS activist Vito Russo in 1988. The speech is widely considered a signifcant milestone in the AIDS activist movement during the early years of the epidemic. Producers of the video were West McLean and Peter Serko. Chris Boscia directed performances by Andy James’ students in Vashon High School Drama Club.

Putting a Positive Spin on the Story: Combatting the Impact of HIV/AIDS on Young Women in Africa

This program in the schools will take place on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 2, at McMurray Middle School Library. Rebecca Blankenship, who teaches 7th-grade social studies, and librarian Julie Jaffe will lead. Guest speakers will include Sona Jobarteh, activist and musician from the Gambia, Cate O’Kane, an activist and consultant from the United Kingdom, and Jacob Bain, a musician and videographer from Vashon. Students will study the role African storytelling traditions play in promoting public health initiatives including HIV/AIDS.

In 7th grade, McMurray students study Africa. Blankenship and Jaffe have created an HIV/AIDS component in the curriculum that was first done in 2019 with a great response from students. Women account for more than half the number of people living with HIV worldwide. Young women (10-24 years old) are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men the same age. HIV disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls because of vulnerabilities created by unequal cultural, social and economic status.

“Mothers and Sons”

A staged reading of the play by Terrance McNally will take place at 7 p.m Dec. 4, at VHS Theater. The play is directed by Chris Boscia, with cast members Jeanne Dougherty, Darragh Keenan, Pheobe Tate and Evan Whitfield.