Learn More About The AIDS Memorial Quilt

by on August 28, 2017

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The AIDS Memorial Quilt In June of 1987, a small group of strangers gathered in a San Francisco storefront to document the lives they feared history would neglect. Their goal was to create a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and thereby, to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This […]

The AIDS Memorial Quilt

In June of 1987, a small group of strangers gathered in a San Francisco storefront to document the lives they feared history would neglect. Their goal was to create a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and thereby, to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This meeting of devoted friends and lovers served as the foundation of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

The idea for the Quilt came to longtime San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones in November of 1985. While organizing an annual candlelight march to honor the lives of slain gay rights advocates Harvey Milk and George Moscone, Jones learned that more than 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to AIDS. He asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of friends and loved ones who had died of AIDS. At the end of the march, Jones and others stood on ladders taping these placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt. Inspired by this sight, Jones and friends made plans for a larger memorial.

Today, more than 48,000 individual 3-by-6-foot memorial panels—most commemorating the life of someone who has died of AIDS—have been sewn together by friends, lovers and family members.

As the Quilt grew, so did its mission. It quickly became a vehicle to visually illustrate the numbers lost to the AIDS epidemic, as well as a tool to bring names to statistics, to humanize the devastation and threat of AIDS. As it brought public attention to the epidemic, the Quilt began to sway government policy and funding decisions, and became a means to unify a generation in the struggle against AIDS.

The Quilt became a powerful tool for social change. In 1987, when the first panel of the Quilt was constructed, homophobic reaction to HIV/AIDS was rampant. Public officials were debating mandatory testing and mandatory quarantines of infected citizens. First dubbed the “Gay Plague” and the disease of drug addicts, HIV/AIDS was subject to widespread prejudice and ignorance. The Quilt became a unifying force both for the gay community and for society. Quilt tours became a venue for peaceful demonstration; an opportunity for all people to stand together and honor those lost to AIDS, and a means to support the gay community.

Since 1987, more than 14 million people have visited the Quilt at thousands of displays worldwide. Through such displays, the NAMES Project Foundation has raised over $3 million for AIDS service organizations throughout North America. The Quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and remains the largest community art project in the world.

This history was drawn from the official website of The AIDS Memorial Quilt. For more information, or to view the entire 54-ton Quilt, go to aidsquilt.org.

See The AIDS Memorial Quilt in person during your performance of Angels in America, Part One or Two

Actors Theater of Louisville
316 West Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Box Office: 502.584.1205
502.371.0956 TDD

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