St. Pete project to bring red awareness to World AIDS Day

By : Joseph Kissel
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St. Petersburg-– Is it art, activism or both?

It’s both on Dec. 1—World AIDS Day—when St. Pete will wake up to find Central Avenue lined with 170 trees transformed into columns of red muslin.

“I hope that when folks come and see the ribbon they’ll remember the people who’ve died, remember the struggle it took by ACT UP to get us access to medicines that are keeping people like me alive,” said artist and St. Petersburg resident Jim Buresch.

But it was pure activism in 1991 when as a student, Buresch turned the quad at West Virginia’s Marshall University into a field of tombstones for World AIDS Day.

“Unlike the rest of the country, HIV infection rates in West Virginia were not stabilizing,” he said. “You need to remember this is the place Oprah Winfrey came to after the pool there had been closed because an HIV-positive man swam in it.”

Although he received threats for his display, Buresch said, “The media accepted it very well and it had a positive impact.”

Years later in San Francisco, he constructed a three-story pink triangle to draw attention to the effects of gentrification there.

But it was Seattle where he would originally come up with he idea to Wrap It Red for World AIDS Day.

“I wanted the columns that support the monorail wrapped in red fabric,” he said. “While the idea was generally well-received, it didn’t go too well with the department of transportation. For it to get approved, it was going to be way more political than I wanted.”

Flash forward to St. Petersburg, and a kinder climate to “large, over-the-top installations with a social message”—and the guy behind it all.

“My bones were too old to be setting up and working in the wee hours and the cold weather,” Buresch said. He added that he will get help from the St. Pete Arts Alliance as well as volunteers from Bank of America’a LGBT Network.

“We’ll have 12 to 15 ambassadors guaranteed during the installation,” he said.

Buresch said it will take about three hours on the evening Nov. 30 for the trees to be wrapped in the red muslin and laced up with red ribbons. Fifty of the trees will accommodate the addition of names, messages and small pictures to help keep the memory alive of those lost to the disease.

A candlelight vigil will take place 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 1, at the new LGBT Welcome Center on Central Avenue.

The installation—which will encompass 16th through 31st streets—will remain up for three days. The display’s time line is based on two factors: it lessens the chance for vandalism and falls in line with the City of St. Petersburg’s rules regarding the installation’s maintenance.

“There will be a balloon loop to complete the conceptual effect of someone crossing the street and seeing the ribbon,” Buresch said. “We’ll be putting the ribbon at 22nd Street so that if someone is looking east or west they’ll see what I see in my mind.”

While the mile-long RED Ribbon will be a temporary art installation, it will produce a piece of community-created folk art as 50 sections where memorials have been left will later be laced together producing an ‘AIDS Wall of Remembrance.’

“I hope people are reminded of what they already know, and that’s after 30 years this is still an issue that affects all people,” Buresch said. “They’ll remember we don’t have a cure yet. My idea is they will think of someone they’ve lost. The ultimate goal of mine is to evoke emotions of loss, anger, love and hope.”

Buresch encourages local residents to participate in the art installation as well by accenting homes and businesses with red ribbon and other additions.

“A red light bulb, red Christmas paper around a tree, red balloons, red film on your office windows, red streamers,” Buresch suggests. “Whatever folks can do to light their places red is a way everyone can be a part of Rock It Red.”


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