Hundreds attend opening of human rights-focused quilt exhibition

Quilts included in “Piece-ful Protest” were displayed during an opening reception on Feb. 19. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

An artist whose exhibition of quilts was abruptly removed from the downtown Wells Fargo—a move reportedly prompted by complaints by some customers—received a standing ovation from about 200 guests at the opening reception at Neighborhood Congregational Church on Saturday.

Artist Allyson Allen and the Community Art Project have installed the 46 quilts inside the Bridge Hall and the Church’s sanctuary. The exhibit will open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. until a closing reception on April 24.

Laguna Art Museum is simultaneously displaying two of Allen’s quilts, which will be up for the same duration as the church exhibit.

“I’m always pleased when someone finds a deeper meaning in any particular piece or something speaks to the viewer for whatever reason so yes, it is gratifying for people to connect with the art and to be able in-person, in real-time tell me they connected with a message of the piece, Allen said.

Wells Fargo’s decision was ultimately beneficial for the quilt exhibition because it attracted the attention of people who might otherwise not have known about it and wanted to see the quilts for themselves, Allen said. She’s not been personally contacted by a Wells Fargo representative since the quilts were removed from its branch.

Artist Allyson Allen spoke to about 200 guests at the opening reception of “Piece-ful Protest” at Neighborhood Congregational Church on Feb. 19. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Allen told guests that she was approached by several community members interested in protesting at the bank to support the quilts reinstallation. She chose not to throw her support behind that action because she doesn’t want Community Art Project and other artists to lose future access to gallery space inside the bank branch over this controversy.

The exhibition was a major draw for many prominent Laguna Beach progressives interested in not only seeing the quilts but also standing up for artistic freedom and racial justice.

Among the 36 quilts is one that shows a Black man with “Enough!” above his head. Another is emblazoned with “Don’t let hate go viral.” A third has a clenched rainbow fist below “Pride – Love is Love.”

Susan Brown, Outreach Ministry Director at Neighborhood Congregational Church, contacted the Community Art Project to offer Bridge Hall as an alternative gallery site after learning of Wells Fargo’s order to remove the quilts, CAP spokesperson Faye Baglin said.

Following a lecture by Allen in the Church’s sanctuary, Pastor Rod Echols led guests in a moment of silence to pray for love and equality in the world, two core principles of his ministry that are also reflected in “Piece-ful Protest.”

“I feel very excited because Allyson Allen’s work is a true reflection of love and justice, which are two very strong goals for our community here in Laguna Beach. And I hope her exhibit allows us to flourish a very important and vital conversation about equality, justice, and compassion in our world,” Echols said.

Pastor Rod Echols speaks to about 200 guests at the opening reception for “Piece-ful Protest” at Neighborhood Congregational Church on Feb. 19. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Although many in the Laguna Beach and arts communities were quick to denounce racism as the roots of complaints against the quilts, Allen said it’s hard for her to know for sure because her art covers a variety of topics including LGBTQ rights, gun violence, American Indian treaties, and COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

“Covid only added another component because I was especially outraged with the violence and discrimination that the Asian community was receiving not only in this country but around the world,” Allen said. “So much of it, in this country, was directly a result of the horrible and immature leadership at the time. And it was irresponsible to target any particular group. It was so reminiscent of when Asians of any race were all gathered up and clumped together in concentration camps. And it’s because we are so ignorant as a culture overall we can’t distinguish and identify who is actually Japanese, who is Korean, who is Chinese. That was the same attitude decades later.”

Echols encourages those residents who still describe the quilts’ continued presence in Laguna Beach as troublesome to come to see the exhibition in person.

“If there are those who believe this is somehow a negative or a black eye on the town what I would invite them to do is really look at the art, read Allyson’s explanation about why she created the art in the first place, and then consider joining some really in-depth conversations with other folks—maybe folks they don’t even agree with on some of these topics—so they can ask questions, wonder out loud, and listen to someone else with another perspective,” Echols said.

Allen told guests that she’s hopeful the local discussions about race in America will continue long after her quilts move onto other cities in April.

“I don’t think this is the end of it. It’s the beginning,” she said.

Quilts included in “Piece-ful Protest” were displayed at Neighborhood Congregational Church on Saturday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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  1. This display doesn’t open the door for open and honest discussions, it further splits our country by saying “these people” which is supposedly what they are trying to protest against. The only thing they have done is change the racism to another group, it’s still racism. They are supporting the belief that certain people don’t need to be accountable for their behavior, only the new target of their racism need to be.

  2. Should try and see if The Church could arrange a showing of White Art, e.g. Rembrandt, Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton . . and when the LGBTQ BLM Defund Police Laguna Politico’s whine, Wells Fargo would take it in?


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