Hiram College

A Hiram alumus is making a statement through art in New York City.


If you are headed to New York City within the next week and want to check out Chaich’s work, stop by La Ma Ma La Galleria at 6 E. 1st Street between Bowery and Second Avenue. Hours are 1-6 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, until July 3.

John Chaich ’95, curated the exhibit Mixed Messages: A(I)DS, Art + Words at La MaMa La Galleria, and on June 24, the New York Times reviewed the exhibit.

The collection of art portrays a range of messages on HIV/AIDS, and the review noted that even though time has passed since the initial discovery of the disease, Mixed Messages still evokes an emotional response.

“Three decades on in the age of AIDS it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes,” Times reviewer Holland Cotter wrote in the review.

Chaich relates the knowledge he put into curating this exhibit back to his time at Hiram, where he majored in communication, with minors in writing, sociology and gender studies.

“To me, curating is an extension of a liberal arts education: both encourage, if not require, finding unique connections from seemingly disparate sources in order to frame meaning and experiences in new ways,” Chaich said. “Hiram taught me that if you want to make something happen, make it happen.”

He first got involved with art activism through is senior thesis at Hiram, which explored the power of theater to raise AIDS awareness. Immediately after graduation, he continued that work at North Eastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine; he was part of the group that produced Performing AIDS, the first national conference uniting theatrical artists responding to AIDS with the scholars researching their work.

In addition to a range of other work, he’s collaborated with Visual AIDS in New York, the organization putting on his current exhibit, since 2004. Curating this exhibit was a natural process; it grew out of his graduate studies in communications design at Pratt Institute. His initial research for his thesis involved the power of designing words over images, but as he moved forward, he found much of what he was researching involved contemporary art and design in response to HIV/AIDS.

That research led him to present a curatorial proposal to Visual AIDS – for the exhibit that is now on display. When it was accepted, he changed the course of his thesis.

“From there, I morphed my thesis research around the exhibition, exploring how curation is a form of communication design, in which the independent curator authors an idea or concept that is expressed through others’ objects instead of his or her own,” Chaich said.

“At first, this challenged the more common belief that designers must make something in order to make a statement. In the process, I discovered how I could embrace an interconnected design practice, in which I could explore the same ideas through my own hands-on work as well as the arrangement of others’.”

Mixed Messages features over forty text-based works reflecting reactions to and connections through HIV/AIDS across generations. The exhibit, which includes paintings, sculptures, installation and new media,  fully encompasses La Galleria – doormats, door-hangers, hand-written graffiti and the front desk’s screensaver are all part of the artwork on display.

“When a viewer sees a work of art that is based in text, he or she provides the image and hopefully feels a more personalized experience with the piece as a result,” Chaich said. “I believe that AIDS has reframed many interpersonal and systematic connections in our lives, so an exhibition of text-based work can trigger these connections, I hope.”

Chaich received the Recent Graduate Outstanding Service to Humanity Award from Hiram in 2004. He continues to extend gratitude to communication professors Linda Rea and Mary Ann Brockett; Career Center Director Kathryn Craig; and Joyce Dyer, Director of the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature.