Magazine article Arts & Activities

About the Aids Memorial Quilt

Magazine article Arts & Activities

About the Aids Memorial Quilt

Article excerpt

When, in 1985, gay/human rights activist Cleve Jones first had the idea to honor and remember his fellow San Franciscans who had died of AIDS, he could not have possibly known that ,it would grow into the world's largest community art project: The NAMES Project Memorial Quilt.

A year later, Jones set about creating a 3' x 6' quilt block to remember his friend, Marvin Feldman. Quickly, others began designing and sewing panels to remember those who had lost their battle with the disease.

From that first, simple panel, what is commonly known as The AIDS Quilt was born. Word spread, and almost overnight people from major urban centers most affected by the AIDS crisis began to send panels to San Francisco to add to the rapidly growing quilt. On Oct. 11, 1987, The Quilt was displayed publicly for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The full Quilt, then consisting of 1,920 panels, covered an area larger than a football field. According to, The Quilt was seen by half a million people in one weekend. Today, the quilt continues to grow, totaling over 45,000 panels representing more than 91,000 people from 36 countries.

In 1989, Common Threads: Stories from The Quilt won the Academy Award for best feature-length documentary. Also in that year, the NAMES Project was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Designated an "American Treasure" in November 2005, The Quilt was also awarded a "Save America's Treasures" federal grant to provide funding for its conservation and preservation.

The immensity of The Quilt as a work of folk art is hard to fathom. Unlike a monument built of stone, it is mutable, capable of--and encouraging--growth and replication.

"The Quilt has the power to take over the landscape," says architectural historian Vincent Scully. "As a monument it lies down, covering the earth. …

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