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Durable Rainbow: MoMA Adds the Rainbow Flag to Its Permanent Collection

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It's the height of design achievement to see your brand or logo transcend mere symbolism to become an icon. For artist Gilbert Baker, who created the Rainbow Flag in 1978 for the Gay Community Center in San Francisco, having his work added into the MoMA design collection is official recognition that he's reached that elevated status. To honor the new addition to the permanent collection, MoMA posted an interview with Baker, and reading his description of its origins—I was a big drag queen in 1970s San Francisco. I knew how to sew.)—you can sense the passion he put into his work. Inspired by the Bicentennial, when the Stars and Stripes had an even higher profile, and his friend Harvey Milk's message of being visible, Baker sought to create a symbol of gay community, pride and diversity beyond the pink triangle (a former Nazi symbol). It helps that a rainbow is a natural flag, so to speak.

Baker goes on to discuss the creation of the flag, fellow volunteers and the first time it was raised in the United Nations Plaza (if the story isn't San Francisco enough already, one of Baker's friends, a hippie and tie-dye expert named Fairy Argyle Rainbow, helped with coloring). It was a transformative project for a then 27-year-old, and a symbol that instantly communicates its message. As Baker himself says:

I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands. [The Rainbow Flag] doesn't say the word "Gay," and it doesn't say "the United States" on the American flag but everyone knows visually what they mean. And that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power, so it's very appropriate. ∙ Previous MoMA Coverage [Curbed New York]