Virginia Johnson’s project “You Belong Here” at her Cambridge, MA, shop, Gather Here is not just important, but given the current state of things here in the United States, it is imperative.
1. What is your definition of craftivism?
Craft + activism = craftivism. Seriously. We are huge advocates for handcraft, working with your hands to create something tangible is a form of resistance in a world that so often focuses on consumption. And many people pickup crafting because they discover they are craving a means of expression that also will allow them to slow down and focus on the moment. They begin to create for others and in those acts make the greater a community a better place.
2. How did you come to collect stitched pieces that say You Belong Here? What moved you from idea to action?
Post-election Cambridge, Massachusetts was a pretty gloomy zip code. This is a place that really believes that women’s rights are human rights. That there is always room for refugees. That love is love. I was talking with a 9 year old girl a few weeks later and she was wearing a tshirt that said, “You Belong Here.”
Her mother had made it for their family post-election so that they could reassure the people in their neighborhood that they were important to the community. I got choked up listening to this young girl explain that just because leaders say hateful words doesn’t mean we need to accept them. That night I sketched out a large embroidery and patchwork banner that said “YOU BELONG HERE”.
When I woke up I knew I needed to ask the community to join me in this effort because it would be our combined voices that would drown out the hate. When I told the young girl about the project she hugged me and committed to making her own cross stitch version.
3. What has been the most surprising thing about the project?
I honestly thought it would be only interesting to our surrounding community. Like people who physically come in and visit the shop. I was surprised when I started seeing people who live all over the country posting photos of their works in progress on Instagram. And suddenly the signs began to come in the mail!
4. Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had thought to do an actual physical community event where people could work on their pieces together. I heard from many stitchers that they took on the project because they needed to create something positive. I think people really need to have places they can go to feel included and accepted. And working on such an inclusive message would have been great to do together.
5. What project(s) are you going to do next?
I’m currently collaborating with a letterpress artist to produce some inclusive message posters that we can share with other small businesses. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gave an incredibly impassioned speech advocating for sanctuary cities. I was inspired and am committed to spreading the message of inclusiveness far and wide.