Unused fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a landmark memorial to and celebration of those lost to AIDS, will be repurposed to produce face masks for medical workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, first conceived by AIDS activist Cleve Jones in 1985, is the largest community folk art project in the world.
Each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet, and commemorates someone lost to AIDS-related complications. Weighing in at over 50 tons, it was last fully displayed in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996.
Now, the quilt is finding an additional purpose amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to PEOPLE, National AIDS Memorial employee Gert McMullin said that she is using leftover fabric from the quilt to sew face masks for Bay Area Community Services, which provides community-based mental health, housing/homeless and older adult services in California’s Alameda and Solano Counties.
The masks will be used by both employees and residents of BACS’s facilities, and McMullin told PEOPLE that the process of creating them has also not only helped ease her PTSD symptoms, but also given her a sense of purpose amid a different pandemic.
“During the AIDS crisis, I could go and do something,” McMullin said. “But now, I can’t. I’m not used to sitting around and not helping people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also put on hold plans for the National AIDS Memorial to be displayed in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
In addition to the full quilt being homed in San Francisco, the Library of Congress plans to add 200,000 items from the Quilt Archives to the library’s American Folklife Center, including photographs, news clippings, and biographical records.
The NAMES Project, which had cared for the quilt since 1987, said in a statement last year that the decision to transfer the quilt to the National AIDS Memorial was “part of the long-term planning” for the project.
“In doing so, [we hope to] secure not only the legacy of the quilt, but also its ability to teach for generations to come,” NAMES said.
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