In the mid 1980’s a group of San Francisco AIDS activists came up with the idea for the AIDS memorial quilt as a creative way of documenting and memorializing the lives of those lost to AIDS that they feared history would neglect. They also felt that something like a quilt would personalize the tragedy and dramatize the devastating impact of the disease. What was created was a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic. Currently there are more than 47,000 individual 3×6 foot memorial panels, most commemorating the life of someone who died of AIDS, sewn by friends, lovers and family members, which comprise the quilt.
In 1987 the NAMES Project Foundation was formed to oversee the project. This was also the year that I saw the Quilt when it was first displayed while I attended the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. It was an overwhelming site as I looked over the National Mall and saw the 1,920 panels. The response to the display led to a four month, 20 city national tour which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and tripled the size of the Quilt. The last display of the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt was October 1996 when it covered the entire National Mall. Anne Balsamo and the Public Interactives Research Team in collaboration with the NAMES Project are trying to raise money through indiegogo to fund their mobile web app that will allow you to see and browse through the quilt electronically. If you would like to help them with their efforts go to: http://www.indiegogo.com/AIDSquilttouch The Quilt was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and remains the largest community art project in the world. People are working to create digital ways of archiving and accessing the Quilt, an app is currently in development.
This year, a part of the Quilt will be displayed from June 27- July 1 and July 4-July 8 on the National Mall in Washington DC and part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in a thematic segment called: Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt. This will mark the 25th anniversary of the Quilt. It will feature hands-on panel-making activities. The program will present more than 100 visual artists, designers, quilters, dancers, musicians, community activists and others who will share their emotional experiences with this project.