By Matt Tracy
Due to restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is embarking on a virtual nationwide tour in commemoration of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
The National AIDS Memorial pieced together more than 10,000 quilt panels representing every state as well as U.S. territories as part of the virtual project, which is intended to give folks an opportunity to view the world-famous quilt in a safe manner during the COVID-19 era. The National AIDS Memorial’s quilt team typically creates more than 1,000 displays of quilts nationwide at a wide range of locations, though those plans had to be changed this year.
“World AIDS Day is taking on new meaning this year, as COVID-19 has brought an enormous loss of life and grief to millions of people,” John Cunningham, the executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, said in a written statement. “During the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, the quilt was a source of immense comfort, inspiration and used as a tool for social activism to open the eyes of the nation to injustice and to help survivors grieve and heal. Through this exhibition, we hope the power and beauty of the quilt can serve that same purpose for those who are experiencing loss and grief due to COVID-19.”
The virtual plans come one year after the quilt was moved from Atlanta to the National AIDS Memorial in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with the purpose of preserving it for the future.
The quilt was developed by the NAMES Project Foundation and stemmed from a candelight vigil and march in 1985 to mark seven years since the assassinations of out gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Milk’s close friend, Cleve Jones, directed folks to write names of people lost to AIDS on a wall, and Jones later noticed that the names looked like a quilt.
Two years later, Jones and his friend, Joseph Durant, brought the idea to life by creating quilts for 40 friends who died of AIDS. That lit the spark that culminated in the massive quilt on display today.
The exhibition, which went live on Nov. 16, is free and open to the public until March 31, 2021. The displays are broken down by state-based categories and include the names of organizations or individuals hosting the respective display.
Hosts were given the option of customizing their displays by selecting their own quilt block and creating a “display narrative” to go with each display. Hosts paid $500 to participate and the proceeds are being used to preserve the 48,000-plus panels, according to the National AIDS Memorial.