Design & Dine Out for Life
Fashion Designer & HIV/AIDS Activist Mondo Guerra Weighs In On the Importance of Dining Out For Life
by Alina Oswald
It’s April, it’s spring, and time yet again for Dining Out For Life, an event that raises money for AIDS service organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in 1991, in Philadelphia, Dining Out For Life is a restaurant-based fundraising event that, over the years, has grown to include cities from across North America, and raises $4 million on average, each year.
This year, Dining Out For Life 2017 includes some 3,000 restaurants spread across more than sixty cities in the United States and Canada. The list of participants includes Western NC AIDS Project in Asheville, North Carolina; Golden Rainbow in Las Vegas; NO AIDS Task Force in New Orleans; A Loving Spoonful located in Vancouver, BC; and Action Wellness, in Philadelphia.
The list of Dining Out For Life participating restaurants, AIDS service organizations and cities grows longer each year. For example, this year, APLA Health, in Los Angeles, is a new addition, while in 2018 newcomers will include New York City’s Alliance for Positive Change, formally known as AIDS Service Center NYC.
Dining Out For Life’s idea is simple. Each year, usually on the last Thursday of April (April 27 this year), you and your friends and loved ones can go out to dine at one or more of the Dining Out For Life participating restaurants. Proceeds from that day will be donated to participating AIDS service organizations. That’s it.
Hosted by Subaru, Dining Out For Life attracts volunteer spokespeople—celebrities like Ted Allen, host of Food Network’s Chopped, actress Pam Grier, chef Daisy Martinez from Food Network’s Viva Daisy! and designer and HIV/AIDS activist Armando “Mondo” Guerra [A&U, January 2013].
Mondo Guerra fascinated the world with his fashion designs as well as by revealing his HIV status on national TV, while on Project Runway Season 8. He then won the debut season of Project Runway All Stars. “I came out as HIV-positive on Project Runway,” he tells me over the phone. “That really changed my life. It has given me so much more self-confidence and self-love.”
He goes on to further describe his living with the virus. “[HIV] is a part of you,” he says, “and you have to consider it all the time. Sometimes that can be difficult. I always say that it’s a different experience for everybody. I’ve really been treating [living with HIV] as a relationship—as an emotional relationship.”
And so, at least partly because living with HIV is a personal, emotional experience, deciding when and how and to whom to disclose should also be a personal matter. In that sense, Guerra’s experience has been a very unique one. Revealing his status has allowed him to combine his advocacy work with his fashion work and work on creative projects that have a powerful social impact.
About his disclosing his HIV on Project Runway, he says, “After that episode aired, so many people not only appreciated the work that I was doing, but they also appreciated that I dared to speak my truth, to tell that I was HIV-positive. It inspired me to continue the conversation about HIV and AIDS. That’s why I’m doing different collaborations with different projects like Dining Out For Life.”
In 2013 Mondo Guerra became a Dining Out For Life spokesperson. “Being a spokesperson for Dining Out For Life is really about getting people involved and participating in the community,” Guerra explains. “What’s wonderful about this program is that it is an opportunity to sit down and have a meal and help the [HIV/AIDS] community. Proceeds made from different restaurants go to [participating AIDS service organizations]. The wonderful thing about [Dining Out For Life] is that [as part of the event] you can go have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can have all three meals at three different participating restaurants, enjoy a conversation, and participate in the wealth and health of the HIV and AIDS community.”
And having that conversation is still important, even today. The work of fundraisers such as Dining Out For Life remains as important and as necessary as it was in 1991. “For me, personally, working with Dining Out For Life this year is just as important as every year that I’ve been doing it,” Guerra says, “because every year [the event] is an opportunity for me not only to share my [HIV] story, but [also to hear] other people’s stories. And I think that’s really where the strength [of the HIV community] comes from. [Dining Out For Life] is an opportunity to engage and have a good meal and have a conversation. And, you know, the conversation might be different this year than it was last year, and it might be different than the one [we will have] next year, but that’s the beauty of the conversation. It allows us to evolve and grow, and to be excited about what has happened within the past year, whether that is in personal life or in the strength and way that the HIV community has [changed] during that year.”
And Guerra believes that it is important that this HIV conversation continues to take place even after a cure becomes available, because, he says, “it’s important to not forget what happened. Because HIV is a big part of everybody’s life. I always say that you might not be infected with HIV, but everyone is affected by HIV. And it’s really important [not only] to know your status, but also to go out there and educate yourself about HIV and AIDS.”
For this year’s Dining Out For Life event, Guerra created specific designs to honor and represent each of the participating ASOs. Last year, on World AIDS Day, he revealed these designs in a unique 360-degree video.
He calls the project “a continuation of all the ideas that I’ve had up to this point.” It is Guerra’s “second generation #Pozitivity project for World AIDS Day 2016 to foster hope and inspiration for those affected by HIV/AIDS and it includes a black-and-white version of Guerra’s original purple-and-gold Pozitivity design created while on Project Runway Season 8, where he disclosed his HIV status.”
When he started working on the project, he began by visiting each of the AIDS service organizations’ websites. “And I realized that I’ve met a lot of these people,” he says. “I realize that I knew a lot of people from these ASOs on a personal level. And so when I visited their websites, I learned more about what they were doing in their community and the programs they had and what kind of events they were doing, and how they were encouraging people to engage. That was really inspiring to me [when creating] very personalized designs, catered to each of the ASOs.”
He adds, “I’ve always thought that it is really important to give back to your community. And the HIV community is a community that has supported me so much that it is my life’s work to be able to give back by using my strength. And my strength is design. So, I’m going to continue to do design work, whether that’s fashion or visual or installation or video, or do a fashion presentation during fashion week. Or [go in front of thousands of] people and share my story. This is the way that I’m truly not only living my life and my truth, but also giving back to my support system.”
This April Mondo Guerra will be dining out for life, as he’s been doing for years, even before he became a Dining Out For Life spokesperson. “I don’t know exactly what city I’m going to be in [during this year’s Dining Out For Life event], but I’m definitely going to be in one of the participating cities,” he says. “There are so many amazing participating restaurants where you can have really good meals and meaningful conversations, and for a really great cause.”
Find out more about Dining Out For Life at www.diningoutforlife.com. Check out Mondo Guerra’s designs for Dining Out For Life 2017 at http://bit.ly/2mN4wWs.
Find out more about Mondo Guerra at www.mondoguerra.com.
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor for A&U.