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Sharing the Power and Beauty of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Communities Across America

Each year as part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Community Display Program, organizations across the country take part in paying tribute to those who have been lost to the AIDS pandemic with both in-person and virtual displays of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. 

The Quilt was created during the darkest days of the AIDS pandemic by gay rights activist Cleve Jones. While planning a march in 1985, he was devastated by the thousands of lives that had been lost to AIDS and asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of friends and loved ones who had died. 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 and, inspired by this sight, Jones and friends made plans for a larger memorial. 

In 1987, a group of strangers began gathering 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 to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This served as the foundation of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and later that year, nearly 2,000 of its panels were displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  

The Quilt stands as an important symbol of hope, healing, activism and remembrance over 40 years after the first cases of AIDS were first reported in the United States. Each Quilt display shares the names and heartfelt stories of loved ones lost to AIDS. Every Quilt panel has been hand-sewn and stitched together as part of more than 50,000 panels of the entire Quilt. Nearly 110,000 names are sewn into the 54 tons of its fabric.

Quilt displays not only help raise funds for local HIV/AIDS service organizations, LGBTQ+ non-profits, and health and social justice advocacy groups, they also provide critical funding that supports the conservation and preservation of the Quilt, which was initially created over 35 years ago, so it will be shared with future generations.

Today, the National AIDS Memorial is the steward of the entire Quilt and all 50,000 panels are located in San Francisco. The Quilt can be viewed in its entirety online at www.aidsmemorial.org/quilt and visitors can search for names on the Quilt and see where sections of it are being displayed, sharing its power and beauty, and helping change hearts and minds.

The Carnegie Center will have four panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display in the Newkirk Gallery from August 1 – August 19, 2023. Included on these panels are commemorations by family members and friends of those who have been lost to this pandemic. A small sampling of those included on the panels on display at the Carnegie can be found in this post. As well as the four panels of the Quilt on display, the Carnegie Center will also have a number of programs related to the Quilt and those being memorialized. Be sure to check the Library’s calendar to see all that is being offered during this display and come join us in the museum.

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