35 Years of Love, San Francisco to host largest display of Aids Memorial Quilt in a decade

The National AIDS Memorial will mark the 35th anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt with an historic outdoor display in Golden Gate Park that will feature nearly 3,000 hand-stitched panels of the Quilt.

The free public event will take place on June 11 & 12 from 10 am – 5 pm each day in Robin Williams Meadow and in the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Expected to draw thousands of people, the display will be the largest display of the Quilt in over a decade and the largest-ever in San Francisco history.

This year’s historic community display will be a beautiful celebration of life and a recognition of the power of the Quilt today as a teaching tool for health and social justice. The Quilt is an important reminder that the HIV/AIDS crisis is still not over and there is much work to be done, particularly in communities of color, where HIV is on the rise in many parts of the country.

John Cunningham, CEO National AIDS Memorial

The two-day 35th Anniversary event, presented by Gilead Sciences, will feature 350 12’x12′ blocks of the Quilt laid out on the ground, each consisting of eight 3’x 6′ individually sewn panels that honor and remember the names and stories of loved ones lost to AIDS. Visitors will be able to walk through the display to experience each panel, remember the names, and see first-hand the stories sewn into each of them. Featured Quilt blocks will include many of the original panels made during the darkest days of the pandemic and panels made in recent years, a solemn reminder that the AIDS crisis is still not over.

“The Quilt remains an important symbol of hope, activism and remembrance that reaches millions of people each year, opening hearts and minds”, said Alex Kalomparis, Senior Vice President, Gilead Sciences, a long-time partner of the Quilt and its programs. The company provided a $2.4 million grant to the National AIDS Memorial in 2019 to relocate the Quilt from Atlanta back to San Francisco. “Through community displays such as this, the Quilt is connecting the story of HIV/AIDS to the issues faced by many people today, touching their lives in a very personal, compelling way”.

An opening ceremony and traditional Quilt unfolding will start at 9:30 am on the 11th, followed by the continuous reading of names of lives lost to AIDS aloud by volunteers, dignitaries, and the public on both days. There will be panel-making workshops, community information booths, stories behind the Quilt, displays of memorabilia, and the ability for the public to share their personal Quilt stories. Volunteer opportunities and community/corporate partnerships are available. The public is also invited to bring new panels that can be displayed in a special area to become part of the Quilt.  

More than 100 new panels will be seen for the first time at the San Francisco display. Many of them were made through the Memorial’s Call My Name panel-making program, which helps raise greater awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS in communities of color, particularly in the South, where HIV rates are on the rise today. Panel-making workshops are organized around the country, working with church groups, quilting guilds and AIDS service organizations to continue the Quilt’s 35-year legacy of bringing people together and to serve as a catalyst for education and action by pulling the thread from then to now for justice. 

Jada Harris (2nd from left) National AIDS Memorial Call My Name Quilt Program Manager shares stories about two newly created panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt that will be displayed at an historic display of the Quilt on June 11 & 12 in Golden Gate Park, which will mark 35 years since the first panels of the Quilt were first created. From L to R: Alex Kalomparis, Senior Vice President, Gilead Sciences; Jada Harris; Cleve Jones, Co-Founder, AIDS Memorial Quilt; Duane Cramer, Quit Community Engagement Director, National AIDS Memorial; Marvin White, Minister of Celebration, Glide Memorial Church; John Cunningham, CEO, National AIDS Memorial; and Gert McMullin, Quilt Conservator, National AIDS Memorial. Photo Credit: National AIDS Memorial or Kevin Herglotz, National AIDS Memorial

“The AIDS Quilt has always been an important part of Glide Memorial Church and many Black churches around the country. Throughout the years, we have made panels and displayed them from the pulpit as a backdrop to worship, with parishioners calling, singing, and preaching their names,” said Marvin White, Minister of Celebration at Glide. “We are honored to be a community partner of this historic display, to celebrate their lives and to share their stories so future generations always remember”.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, while new HIV infections in the U.S. fell about 8% from 2015 to 2019, Black and Latino communities — particularly gay and bisexual men within those groups — continue to be disproportionately affected. In 2019, 26% of new HIV infections were among Black gay and bisexual men, 23% among Latino gay and bisexual men, and 45% among gay and bisexual men under the age of 35. African American and Hispanics/Latinos account for the largest increases in new HIV diagnoses, 42% and 27% respectively. Disparities also persist among women. Black women’s HIV infection rate is 11 times that of white women and four times that of Latina women. Racism, HIV stigma, homophobia, poverty, and barriers to health care continue to drive these disparities.

The first panels of the Quilt were created in June of 1987 when a group of strangers, led by gay rights activist Cleve Jones, gathered in a San Francisco storefront to document the lives they feared history would forget. This meeting of devoted friends, lovers and activists would serve as the foundation for The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.  Each panel made was the size of a human grave and they saw the Quilt as an activist tool to push the government into taking action to end the epidemic.

What started as a protest to demand action turned into a national movement that served as a wake-up call to the nation that thousands upon thousands of people were dying. Today, the Quilt is just as relevant and even more important, particularly in the wake of Covid-19, and the fact that the struggles we face today that result from health and social inequities are the issues we will face again in the future if we don’t learn from the lessons of the past.

Cleve Jones, Gay Rights Activist

That year, the nearly 2,000 panels of the Quilt traveled to Washington, D.C. for its first display on the National Mall.  It then traveled to several cities, including a large display at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to raise funds for AIDS service organizations.

Today, the Quilt, considered the largest community arts project in the world, is under the stewardship of the National AIDS Memorial and has surpassed 50,000 individually sewn panels with more than 110,000 names stitched into its 54 tons of fabric. The Quilt continues to connect the history of the AIDS pandemic to the ongoing fight against stigma and prejudice through hundreds of community displays around the country and educational programs that reach millions of people each year. In 2021, an outdoor Quilt display system was constructed in the National AIDS Memorial Grove, located in Golden Gate Park, which allows for regular outdoor displays.

“Golden Gate Park has long been a place where history is made and where people come together for change, to heal and express themselves,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “The National AIDS Memorial is an important part of that history, and we are honored to be part of this event that will bring thousands of people to our beloved park to honor a national treasure”.

A special web page at aidsmemorial.org has been created for the public to plan their visit to see the display that will be updated regularly with the latest details and information about this historic event.

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