The Cradle Project

The Cradle Project travels to different places to raise awareness about the impact of AIDS on children and families in Africa and the cradle of care communities to provide in response.

Exhibited from February 7, 2014 - March 23, 2014

What do a local museum and an international health organization have in common? They inspire action.


The exhibition of The Cradle Project installation at The MAH consists of 22 cradles from the original 2008 exhibit, with new ones made by Santa Cruz artists, Wes Modes, Heidi Cramer, and Luke Wilson. The opening weekend of this exciting installation was led by the three local artists as they lead classes with the community on cradle-making. By creating these cradles, Naomi Natale, the artist and activist behind The Cradle Project, endeavors to bring awareness (and funding) towards the impact of AIDS on children and families living in Africa.

This exhibition was inspired by the work of Naomi Natale, an artist, and activist who was moved to action when she visited Kenya in 2002. There, Natale witnessed that the far-reaching effects of AIDS that radiate beyond the loss of life: poverty, war and eroding family structures. Today, there are 12 million African children orphaned by AIDS alone. Natale invited international artists to construct these intricate cradles to raise awareness and funds for the Firelight Foundation, which assists African community groups in responding to the needs of orphaned children. A cradle is a vessel intended to shelter something precious to humanity–the hope and potential of orphaned children. Every hand-crafted cradle in this exhibition is a testament to the resilience of African children in the face of the AIDS epidemic.

“I decided to use the symbol of an empty cradle to represent the lost potential of these orphan children...

I imagined a space full of empty cradles, stacked on top of each other, each one with its own personal story—it would be a way to overwhelm people, the way I was overwhelmed, the way we should all be overwhelmed by how many children are orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”

- Naomi Natale from Good Times article 'Cradles of Change'

Meet the Artist

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Artist & Activist

Naomi Natale

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“We asked artists to make their cradles out of discarded materials to show that if we can see the potential for scraps to be used to cradle a child, then certainly we should be able to see the potential in our world’s orphaned children."

- Naomi Natale, Good Times article 'Cradles of Change'

Meet the Santa Cruz Artists

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Wes Modes

Wes Modes has worked at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History as an artist, artistic collaborator, organizer, and Guest Curator and Exhibition Catalyst. Wes is a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, CSU Monterey Bay, and San Jose State University. He has taught more than thirty classes at Free Skool Santa Cruz, a project he helped form. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the Digital Art and New Media program at the University of California Santa Cruz. He has exhibited his art and performed regionally since 1996. In other lives, he is a high-tech runaway, writer, community organizer, geek, and mischief-maker.

Wes is a Santa Cruz artist focused on social practice, sculpture, performance, and new media work. He has exhibited and performed regionally since 1996. He has shown at the San Francisco International Art Festival, LAST Festival in San Jose and San Francisco, National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, and the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

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Heidi Cramer

Heidi Cramer is a trans-disciplinary mixed media artist out of the University of California Santa Cruz. The influential themes in her work focus on ​art as a means to reflect the common state of consciousness in the society. How humanity sculpts the environment and how humans influence one another are the questions to her creative process. She chooses materials that are consciously chosen as symbiotic elements to the concept of the work and are often adopted material from the earth and upcycled human-made surplus. Present in her works are characteristics of the feminine body, the natural cycles of the earth, and relational experimentation. The work carries elements of movement, with intimate and interactive qualities.

Read More about Heidi's design for 'Heirloom Seeds: The Earth as Cradle'

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Luke Wilson

Luke is a Santa Cruz artist who graduated from UCSC with a focus on Art and Sculpture. He was a recipient of the 2011 Irwin Scholarship at UCSC and was showcased in the Sesnon Gallery. Luke has assisted in other events and exhibitions at The MAH and has gone on to create further works of installations elsewhere.

Read More about his design for the 'Nest Cradle'

In the News

Three Santa Cruz artists, Wes Modes, Heidi Cramer and Luke Wilson, will create cradles in community workshops. which will then become part of the exhibit on the 3rd Floor and later auctioned off. The proceeds will go directly to Firelight and our work with African communities.

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The (New) MAH exhibit gives voice to orphans in sub-Saharan Africa through the use of art and cradle-making.

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The MAH has created a real community around The Cradle Project, an installation that travels to different places to raise awareness about the impact of AIDS on children and families in Africa and the cradle of care communities to provide in response.

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At this exhibit, the MAH invited museum visitors to collaborate with the artists to create community cradles. Three Santa Cruz artists contributed cradles during this show: Luke Wilson, Heidi Cramer, and Wes Modes.

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Presented in partnership with The Firelight Foundation.

Firelight Foundation is based just across the street from the MAH in Santa Cruz, but its work focuses on Africa. The Foundation identifies, funds, and strengthens promising community organizations that support the health, resilience, and education of children in Africa.

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