Medicine Wheel Vigil Helps Remind Youth of AIDS Crisis

The annual vigil at the Cyclorama on World AIDS Day entered its 20th year Thursday.

Kurt Reynolds can still vividly remember going to work for the AIDS Action Committee in 1984.

“At the time, our residents were dying every six weeks,” said Reynolds, who found housing for people with AIDS.

Reynolds remembers living on Appleton Street in the South End, and he remembers seeing no fewer than 20 of his neighbors die from the syndrome.

Now Reynolds, a fifty-something artist living in South Boston, is afraid that the horribly destructive nature of the syndrome, so evident during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s, is being lost on younger generations.

“They don’t have any of the visuals,” he said, “don’t have any of the associations that someone my age would have.”

However, Reynolds is hopeful that events such as Thursday’s Medicine Wheel Vigil, now in its 20th year at the , will help resolve this growing disconnect.

“The young people here today are the advocates of tomorrow,” he said at Thursday’s vigil.

Medicine Wheel Vigil

On Thursday – World AIDS Day and “A Day Without Art” – Reynolds sang and played acoustic guitar at the vigil, a 24-hour public art display by Medicine Wheel Productions’ Michael Dowling that goes from midnight to midnight and features an array of performers, from singers like Reynolds, to youth rock bands, to step dancers and Zen chanters.

The vigil is meant to be reflective and therapeutic, according to Dowling, who has designed all 20 installations.

“I think it’s a very powerful event for the people who use it,” he said Thursday at the vigil.

Each year, the vigil is based around a different element – earth, fire, water or air.

This year’s vigil incorporated water. There was a large but shallow pool in the middle of the Cyclorama with thousands of mussel shells picked from Carson Beach in South Boston. The pool began empty (except for the shells) but filled up over the 24-hour period with an artificial rain shower on every hour.

The pool was encircled by 36 pedestals, each with a unique shrine on top. The shrines have carried over the event’s 20 years and have prayers, letters and notes, figurines and photographs, that have been left behind by visitors in remembrance. One person left two Christmas ornaments, another, a stuffed animal of a dog.

Youths’ Role

Dowling said he enjoys having the school and youth groups come throughout the day – especially when they perform.

“Even though these kids may not feel connected to AIDS,” he said, “their role as artists is really significant in the community, and this is an invitation to them to use art as a service to others and to have an impact with their art.”

Dowling said there were also moments when he saw the calmness and serenity of the artistic space break through to students, such as when the rain fell in front of a group of Boston high school students.

“The rain went on, and they went numb with silence,” he said. “It invites those moments that we don’t take throughout the day.”

For others, like Reynolds, who has performed in almost every year of the event, the space was already deep with meaning.

“It’s a space that allows me to reflect on all of this time that has passed,” he said, “which includes many of the losses and many of the gains and the continued work that needs to be done.

“My heart gets pretty full – and my mind – with the people who have worked so hard to keep this fight alive.”

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