Metro Weekly

View thousands of AIDS Memorial Quilt panels virtually in new World AIDS Day exhibit

Each state's display pulls together select panels honoring those lost to HIV to commemorate World AIDS Day

Panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt commemorating D.C. residents – Photo: National AIDS Memorial.

The National AIDS Memorial has launched a virtual exhibition of the AIDS Memorial Quilt featuring more than 10,000 quilt panels representing all 50 states and U.S. territories to commemorate Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day.

Each year on Dec. 1, the National AIDS Memorial Quilt team works with hundreds of partners to arrange more than 1,000 in-person displays of select panels from the quilt, often housed at universities, houses of worship, museums, or community centers to honor and remember those lost to the virus.

This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in-person displays are not practical. So instead, the National AIDS memorial has compiled more than 50 state-specific displays virtually.

Each display host will feature a selection of quilt blocks of their choice and curate a personalized display narrative that accompanies each display.

“World AIDS Day is taking on new meaning this year, as COVID-19 has brought an enormous loss of life and grief to millions of people,” John Cunningham, the executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, said in a statement. “During the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, the Quilt was a source of immense comfort, inspiration and used as a tool for social activism to open the eyes of the nation to injustice and to help survivors grieve and heal. Through this exhibition, we hope the power and beauty of the Quilt can serve that same purpose for those who are experiencing loss and grief due to COVID-19.”

The exhibition of the quilt blocks will run through March 31, 2021. Proceeds raised from fees levied on virtual display hosts directly benefit the National AIDS Memorial Quilt, to ensure it continues to be cared for and conserved, and can be displayed in the future.

Additional support for the quilt and its programs comes from corporate donors, such as pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences and Vivent Health.

The D.C. page features displays selected by Whitman-Walker Health, the federally-qualified community health center that specializes in LGBTQ and HIV care and was a central player in the District’s early response to the HIV epidemic, and by the Library of Congress.

The page also includes historical photos, courtesy of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, of the quilt’s first-ever display on the National Mall during the March on Washington for Gay & Lesbian Rights, on Oct. 11, 1987.

Related: HIV service and advocacy organizations to commemorate Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day

“Even though nothing can replace seeing our beautiful Quilt in person, this virtual exhibition allows us to still share the Quilt and its stories just as we have done for past three decades around World AIDS Day,” Gert McMullan, a co-founder of the Quilt and Quilt Conservator at the National AIDS Memorial, said in a statement.

Panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt commemorating D.C. residents – Photo: National AIDS Memorial

This year’s World AIDS Day marks the 40th anniversary of the first AIDS cases to be reported in the United States, which resulted in nearly 700,000 deaths since the start of the epidemic.

To reflect on the status of the epidemic, the advances in medicine that have made it a manageable health condition, and the importance of remembering those lost, the National AIDS Memorial will co-host “World AIDS Day 2020: A National Conversation,” a panel discussion focusing on the interconnectedness of the HIV epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Among those participating in the event, which will be streamed live on YouTube starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1, include U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, renowned epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, Cleve Jones, the co-founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Kristin Urquiza, the co-founder of Marked by COVID, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Alphonso David, and award-winning actress and HIV advocate Judith Light, who will moderate the discussion.

The National AIDS Memorial’s AIDS Memorial Quilt state- and territorial-specific displays can be accessed by visiting www.aidsmemorial.org/virtual-exhibition.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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