Story 04: Where Did the Ideas Come From?

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Sidebar: Families: A Celebration of Diversity, Commitment and Love

Written by Aylette Jenness

I want to speak a little bit about a photographic exhibit, Families. But I'd like to begin by talking about how we did exhibits—sometimes, not always—with endless staff meetings in which we'd sit around and talk about what it was kids needed to know in the world today. And what a wonderful way to proceed on an exhibit, as opposed to a television show that then becomes an exhibit. In the late '70s, early '80s we talked about families. At that time the popular image was the nuclear family—Mom, Dad, Dick and Jane, and Spot and Puff, or whatever the cat's name was. And in fact that wasn't how most families were. So we began to think about how could we address this subject. Just among ourselves and the people we knew, there were people of color and of different religious backgrounds—all sorts of families. So we did an exhibit in 1985 that was mainly photographs.

It was later copied and circulated in various places in the United States. The diversity of families was terrific. I think it was one of the first places where a lesbian family showed up, and I sort of held my breath to see whether there were going to be objections to that. There weren't any in Boston. Interestingly enough, the only place that there was, was in Seattle, for some reason where the exhibit was picketed by a religious group. Seattle of all places. What a surprise. But in Boston, no. Not at all.

The exhibit was set up like a living room. It had a sofa, chairs, lamps, a rug on the floor. And these photographs on the wall. There were some children's books on the table for kids to read. And papers and crayons that kids could use to create drawings of their own families. Each blank sheet was titled, "My Family." We put the drawings up on bulletin boards. We got tons of them. We changed them all the time, there were so many. So we did a book from the exhibit.

When I did the book, I added some other families. I needed a gay family, and I wanted a bigger geographical spread than the Boston area, so we found families, in other places. In the book we included some of the blank "My Family" pages. So there was a transfer from audience participation in an exhibit to audience participation in a book.

—-Excerpted from an interview with Mike Spock, 2011

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