Performances aim to bolster HIV, AIDS awareness

Mike Oakes

In what organizers are calling a new approach to increasing HIV and AIDS awareness in the Twin Cities, students and faculty from local colleges are putting on a series of arts performances and panel discussions this week aimed at Minnesota’s African immigrants and blacks.

The Lifeline Performing Arts and AIDS Awareness project kicked off Sunday – World AIDS Day – at St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre. It included a performance by Eager Artists, a South African group, which will perform throughout the week at University and local venues.

Project manager and University lecturer Wynfred Russell said he hopes the arts-based campaign will start a dialogue about HIV and AIDS among Minnesota’s African immigrants and blacks.

These populations have experienced the biggest increase in new HIV cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

A 2001 health department report found that African immigrants accounted for 16 percent of new HIV cases and comprise only 1 percent of Minnesota’s population.

Because they retain lower literacy rates than other Minnesota groups, they have had less exposure to the dangers of the disease and information about HIV it is disseminated primarily through mainstream media, Russell said.

Many African immigrants fear telling family and friends they have HIV or AIDS because they feel they might be disowned, Russell said.

The performances this week represent “art forms already embedded in these cultural groups” that might break the ice in those communities, allowing people to talk openly about the disease, Russell said. The performances will reach out to those communities “in their language, through art, storytelling and music.”

Russell characterized this week as the first small step in raising awareness.

“We hope to create some awareness and help to create an atmosphere in which people can begin talking about the disease – with all of us as a community,” Russell said. “But this won’t be the last thing we do with respect to getting the word out.”

Students from the University, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and Century College collaborated with the University’s African Student Association and the African American and African Studies department on the events. The $40,000 campaign was funded by the University’s College of Liberal Arts and School of Public Health.

An event schedule can be found on the University’s Web site: www1.umn.edu/twincities.

Mike Oakes welcomes comments at [email protected]