Over the weekend I learned something that made me stop in my tracks: my good friend, a 19yr old college graduate, had never heard of the AIDS Quilt!!! How had she NOT heard of it!? Growing up in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, I remember regularly hearing about the quilt in school. The variety of panels and the people they were dedicated to made a lasting impression on me. But now I don’t remember the last time I heard mention of the quilt and somewhere in the last twenty years, it stopped being talked about in schools. 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the quilt and I want to take this moment to share a bit of its history.
To see it now is to be struck by history; to see it then was to be riven by grief and terror”
– Andrew Sullivan, 2013*
In 1985, Cleve Jones, a San Fransico activist and one of the organizers of the memorial honoring the memories of supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone, asked marchers to write the names of loved ones they had lost on placards. At the end of the march these placards, over 1,000 in total, were taped to the walls of the San Fransico Federal Building. The visual effect was that of a patchwork quilt. Jones was inspired and two years later, in June 1987, the NAMES Project Foundation and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt were born.
The quilt made its first appearance during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987. Covering a section of the National Mall larger than a football field the original quilt contained 1,920 panels. It then debarked on a 20 city tour across the US. By the end of the tour, which was only four months long, the quilt had grown to more than 6,000 panels.
Each of the 3′ x 6′ panels shares the life and love of the individual/s that they are dedicated too. Some are simple panels covered in signatures or a spray painted name. Others are complex designs which incorporate pictures and clothing. Most are made by loved ones but there are those made by groups like schools or churchs. A few are made by the individual before their passing. Some even use a bit of humor.
By 1992 the quilt included panels from every state as well as 28 countries and NAMES Project Foundation was invited to march in the President Bill Clinton’s inaugural parade. A year later the quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Now 30 years since it’s original debut, the AIDS Memorial quilt remains the world’s largest community art project with more than 48,000 panels representing 35 countries and continues to grow. Displays of the quilt have raised more than $3 million for North American AIDS service organizations.
To learn more about the NAMES Project Foundation and the AIDS Quilt please visit www.aidsquilt.org
NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt – http://aidsquilt.org
National Mall History – http://mallhistory.org/items/show/182
*On What Sets the AIDS Quilt Apart From All Other Memorials – http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/andrew-sullivan-on-what-sets-the-aids-quilt-apart-from-all-other-memorials-3985170/