The headline was shocking: American babies are 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than babies in other rich countries. The United States’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world. That statistic shocked me. It’s a form of American exceptionalism we Americans don’t like to think about. As the Washington Post put it, Our Infant Mortality is a National Embarrassment.
I thought about the parents of those little ones, whose crushing loss–losing a child before their first birthday–is immeasurable. The loss is emotional, financial, and devastates marriages and families. The cost of 23,000 infant deaths on our country is unimaginable.
The loss cuts deeper because infant mortality is a problem we understand pretty clearly. It is not Democrat or Republican, Red State or Blue state. It’s not about who is President. The causes of infant mortality and solutions to it are well known. It is a problem other countries have solved. And it is something we have ignored.
As a visual artist, I believe in the power of art to change hearts, minds, behavior, and the world. Think about the famous AIDS Quilt, a community art project commemorating the loss of more than 80,000 lives. By ‘drawing’ a picture of a problem, we can see and feel the enormity of it. Our country, our leaders, and lawmakers need to see exactly what infant mortality looks like in America.
My vision for TheMourningProject.com is that each of the infants lost in a given year will be remembered with a unique, handmade, heartfelt little elegy. The fiber art communities and loss families have come together to make 20,000+ pairs of baby booties. This is the number of American infants who die every year before their first birthday. (The number has decreased since some states expanded the Medicaid program.)
Whether sewn, knitted, felted, woven, or crocheted, makers donated handmade baby shoes in the colors of mourning: black, white, and gray. Gathered together, these small elegies will literally paint a compelling picture too big to ignore: a 38′ by 38′ image of a heart with baby feet inside. This image requires 14,000 pairs of white booties alone. I love the way this installation plan is like the problem of infant mortality itself: we all need to contribute to solve this ‘puzzle.’
The collection phase of the project has ended, but we will include a pair of your booties in the installation. Make your booties in memory of a lost child, if you wish, and send them with this form (click here).
Here is where we are to date, along with a schedule of upcoming installation dates. Our work will be both a visual reminder of a national tragedy, and what we can do about it.
The Mourning Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Mourning Project must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Cash donations are not deductible. To make an online donation, go to https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/the-mourning-project
Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about TheMourningProject.com.
Click here to learn more about the US infant mortality problem and solutions.
Click here for a Brief Talking Points handout about infant mortality.
How many baby booties have we raised to date? Click here.
heart image courtesy of http://worldartsme.com