20th Medicine Wheel Installation

A letter from Medicine Wheel’s Artistic Director, Michael Dowling:

Dear friends and supporters, 

In 1980, I was working at Fenway Community Health Center and witnessed the beginning of AIDS in Boston-the founding of AIDS Action, the dying years, and the fear!  I remember having dinner with my mother.  When she realized that she had drunken from my glass she blurted out, “It’s OK, I don’t have AIDS.  Do you?”

In 1992, the Boston Center for the Arts invited me to create a new work to honor World Aids Day, A Day Without Art, which many of you know as Medicine Wheel. That year, I scattered stones in the Cyclorama and asked folks to move them to a pile in the center of the room. Two women struggled with the largest stone, so I and another young man offered to help. They declined. When offered a third time, one of them said to me “You don’t get this!  Her son, my nephew just died from AIDS.  This is our weight!” She told me how the whole family had abandoned him. From that installation on, I witnessed powerful moments of healing and reflection.

In 1998, a young suicide attempt survivor I worked with lost his mother to AIDS.  When he showed up for the opening of Medicine Wheel, someone nudged me saying, “We have trouble. Some thugs have shown up.” The young man knelt in the center of Medicine Wheel sobbing and clutching the only photo he had of his mother, the newspaper obituary. His grandmother had destroyed the rest of the photos because his mother had died a “bad death”.

In 2008, a woman came in just as Medicine Wheel was ending.  She was looking at a book entitled Living with AIDS.  I offered her the book, but in response she said, “I just wanted to see what they have put in the books.”  She then told me that her two sons had died from AIDS, sixteen and seventeen years earlier.  She asked me if the wheel was inside, telling me that she came every year to remember her boys. She also told me that when they were sick no one would speak to her, including her own mother. She then carried in two buckets of water to add to the 12,000 we had already installed.

Over the years tens of thousands have gathered at Medicine Wheel to reflect and remember.  This year we are celebrating the 20th incarnation. The mystical Poet Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I hope that Medicine Wheel has been and will continue to be that field for many.

I am hoping that you will continue to help celebrate our shared artistic legacy and recognize the power of art to heal, nurture, and transform!  Where would we be without art? Where would I be without you?

Thank you,

Michael Dowling, Founder and Artistic Director
Medicine Wheel Productions

To read more about this year’s installation, click here.