Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


The Smithsonian Community Reef, a "satellite" of the Institute For Figuring's Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project, was created in just five months in 2010 at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and was a highly successful local expression of a global fiber art project that has its theoretical roots in Feminist theory and interdisciplinary connections to hyperbolic geometry, marine science, environmental conservation, and community activism. Using crochet, a single element technique popular in the 1960s, participants of all ages and abilities can make playful, tactile forms that, when assembled, resemble a living coral reef. In making the reef, participants learn to work with new materials like plastics and recyclables, to take collective ownership over the project's success, and to become individually and collectively empowered. To promote broad participation in the Smithsonian Community Reef, I developed workshops to describe the purpose of the project and transfer the hands-on fiber skills. The research I did for my Master's thesis on Cranbrook Academy of Art and its pedagogy, and the discussions I was privileged to have with Cranbrook-educated fiber artists who worked in the 1960s, helped me to better understand and express not only the essential content of the coral reef project, but also its open invitation to creativity and experimentation. I will discuss some of the positive outcomes of this project, and how it compares or differs from similar collaborative installations in fiber and other media, past and present.