Smart Museum exhibition crowd-sources blankets for art-based activism

Boxes of blankets began pouring into the Smart Museum of Art over the summer, hundreds a week, bearing postmarks from Ohio, Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts and beyond.

They arrived as part of Welcome Blanket, a project from designer and artist Jayna Zweiman that recasts the roughly 2,000-mile distance of the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico into handmade blankets.

Representing the distance of the wall in lengths of yarn—over 3,000 blankets to be knit from 3,500,640 yards of yarn—the blankets are being created by participants across the country and around the world and sent to the Smart Museum. The blankets are accompanied with notes of welcome for new immigrants as well as refugees seeking resettlement, in a craft-based response to the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“As a crowd-sourced artistic platform, Welcome Blanket offers a personal—and personalized—opportunity to engage in the politics of immigration. It grows stronger with every participant who joins,” said Zweiman, who was one of the co-founders of the Pussyhat Project, a grassroots initiative where knitters around the world created pink cat-eared hats for the 2017 Women’s March.  

All types and designs of handmade blankets are accepted, though Zweiman suggests a “Come Together” blanket pattern that can be knit or crocheted in pieces alone or as part of a group. “Knit-alongs” and other gatherings are being organized across the country for participants to make blankets together and share their stories of immigration, cultural displacement and geographic relocation. Blankets should be sent to the Smart Museum by Sept. 5, 2017, to be included in the project.

“Through Welcome Blanket, the Smart is committed to offering the museum as a space where artistic practice prompts examination and discussion of the most significant issues of today from every angle,” said Alison Gass, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum and the project’s curator. “We are proud to be a platform where Jayna Zweiman’s ‘craftivist’ vision can be explored together in an open environment like the University of Chicago, where reflecting, questioning and debating difficult issues is integral to the intellectual culture. We look forward to partnering with many great thinkers, artists, activists and community members to facilitate conversations around the issues of immigration to the United States.”

Throughout the remainder of the summer, the Museum’s galleries will serve as a receiving station where blankets are sorted, catalogued, stored and exhibited. As blankets accumulate over time, the space will evolve into a vibrant installation of crowd-sourced creations.

The installation will also serve as a site for discussions around issues of human rights, immigration and the legacy of artistic activism. Guests are invited to spend time knitting, sewing, telling stories, sharing resources and organizing their own events within the space. On Nov. 4, the Smart and EXPO Chicago will host a panel discussion on feminist art practices with Zweiman and artist Judy Chicago. Welcome Blanket will also organize additional programs that bring together academics, artists, activists, and other partners to discuss these important issues and explore opportunities for response and action.

At the conclusion of the project, the Smart Museum will distribute the blankets to refugees and other immigrants in coordination with refugee resettlement agencies and other community organizations.


“I have two hopes with Welcome Blanket,” said Zweiman. “I hope that whoever enters this gallery experiences the power of craft to transmit crucial, timely ideas. And I hope that our new neighbors who receive these gifts will feel welcomed and reach back to the makers of their blankets. It is our diversity, our multiple perspectives and personal stories that create the fabric of our society.”


Welcome Blanket is at the Smart Museum through Dec. 17, 2017.