MODA makes winter warmer with blanket project

A 2018 visit to a Chicago art museum provided the inspiration for the Museum of Design Atlanta to become a resource for refugees.

MODA was about to open a crafts exhibition when the then director came across a display of blankets in Chicago. They were part of the Welcome Blanket Project, launched in California to showcase handmade blankets that are later donated to refugees. For the last two years, MODA has also participated, setting up displays of about 500 blankets from all over the world in its Midtown gallery.

“And they were all handmade, either quilted, woven or crocheted,” said Miranda Hazelwood, MODA’s visitor experience manager. “We had some from Canada, New York, California and even some from Atlanta.”

Each maker is invited to include a letter about their family’s immigration or migration story. But the goal isn’t to merely admire the craftsmanship. After the display is taken down, the blankets are distributed to local refugee families.

“We reached out to different Atlanta organizations,” said Hazelwood. “We also started doing a pop-up giveaway at Refuge Coffee in Clarkston.”

Project founder and California resident Jayna Zweiman said the goal is to create a network of welcome across cultural institutions and refugee organizations.

“We have a very complex history with immigration,” she said. “What if we didn’t think about it as a way to keep people out, but as inclusion? That’s what’s happening as more local museums take this on.”

Zweiman was inspired to create the project by her own family’s story.

“I’m a grandchild of refugees and immigrants; I’m the product of the American dream,” she said. “I see people coming here today who remind me of my grandparents. I started this as a reaction to the idea of how my grandparents arrived to a new future, which was very different. But the story connects our past to today and lets us talk about an issue in a time that’s now more divisive.”

Blanket creators have run the gamut of ages, from 4 to 104, and don’t need specialized skills.

“Anyone of any level is invited to participate,” said Zweiman. “We’ve reached a lot of people through word of mouth, schools, community centers and family members. It’s one of the few things that’s been politically unifying; it includes people with different points of view.”

Putting the blankets on display also brings more people into the conversation, she said. “Then after the project finishes, we make symbolic and practical gifts to our newest neighbors.”

Information about the Welcome Blanket Project is online at welcomeblanket.org. Details about MODA are online at museumofdesign.org.


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