The AIDS Quilt

In June 1987, a group of strangers gathered at a storefront in San Francisco to get the names they feared would be neglected by history, with the intent of creating a memorial for people who died of AIDS. This project was also to help as many people as possible, to understand the devastating influence of the disease; this meeting of devoted friends and lovers have served as the foundation of the AIDS Quilt Project. These days, the AIDS Quilt has been a powerful reminder of the AIDS pandemic, visually. There are more than 48 thousand quilts that were sewn together by family members, friends and lovers – to commemorate the life of loved ones who tragically died of AIDS. The escalating medical expenses associated with AIDS care is, also, another issue this projects likes to address. As an aside, websites like, has been known to help relieve the financial stresses of escalating medical debts.


The Beginnings of Activist

The Quilt has been conceived on late November, in the year 1985, by a gay rights activists in San Francisco, by the name of Cleve Jones. Since the 1987 assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, both of whom were openly gay. Jones helped in organizing the yearly candlelight march in honor for these men. During the planning for the 1985 march, he has learned that more than a thousand residents in San Francisco were lost to AIDS. He asked his co-marchers to write the names of their loved ones and friends who died of AIDS, on the placards. When the march ended, Jones (along with others) stood on ladders to tap these placards to the walls of the Federal Building of the state. The wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt.

Inspired by this sight, Cleve Jones and his friends made plans for a greater memorial. A year and few months later, he made the very first quilt panel, in memory of his friend, Marvin Feldman. Moreover, in June 1987, he grouped with Mike Smith and some others to organize the Foundation of the NAMES Project. The response from the public (about the quilt) had been immediate. The cities in the United States, that were most affected by AIDS, included Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco. These people sent panels to the San Francisco workshop. There are also generous donors that immediately supplied sewing machines, equipment and other materials. Many others have also volunteered tirelessly, to further the crusade.

The Inaugural Display

On the 11th of October, 1987, the AIDS Quilt had been displayed for the first time in Washington DC, at the National Mall, during the National March for Gay & Lesbian Rights on Washington. It has covered a space bigger than a football field, with 1,920 panels. About 500,000 people had visited the AIDS Quilt, with an overwhelming response to the inaugural display of the Quilt, which led to a 20-city national tour, in the spring of 1988. The tour has raised around half a million dollars for hundreds of AIDS organization. Well over nine thousand volunteers (all over the country) helped the 7-person travelling crew to move and display the AIDS Quilt. In addition, the local panels have been added in every city, tripling the size of the Quilt to more than 6 thousand panels, by the end of the tour! Many were encouraged to donate to the cause, but not at the expense of financially over-extending themselves – sites like were recommended to those who ended up in debt, from financial over extension.


The AIDS Quilt Grows

They returned to Washington DC in October 1988, when more than 8,000 panels had been displayed on the Ellipse, in front of the White House – politicians, celebrities, friends and families ceremoniously read the names on the Quilt panels. The reading of the names have become a tradition of the AIDS Quilt tour. The second tour of North American was in 1989, which brought the Quilt to 19 more cities, in the US and Canada. The last display was on October 1996.

The AIDS Quilt Today

These days, there are chapters for the NAMES project throughout all of the US, as well as, independent Quilt affiliates across the globe. Since 1987, more than 14 million people visited the Quilt at thousands of showcases, throughout the world. In these displays, the Foundation of the NAMES Project has raised more than 3 million dollars for service organizations committed to ending the AIDS epidemic. The displays in Washington DC (from 1992 to 1987) are the only times the Quilt has been featured in its entirety.

The AIDS Quilt has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, in the year of 1989, remaining as the biggest community art project the world has ever seen. It was the subject of countless films, books, articles, scholarly papers – as well as being the center of many artistic & theatrical performances. It is included in the “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” documentary, that has gone on to win the Academy Award for best feature-length documentary film of 1989. The AIDS Quilt has redefined the tradition of quilt making, with regards to modern circumstances. Also, those who made the mistake of donating to imposter organizations (whose credit card was wrongfully charged) can get it fixed via credit repair; also, certain collection agencies have debt management mechanisms in place, like ic payment systems, allowing you to dispute erroneous debt items.

As a tool for education, a memorial and a work of art, the AIDS Quilt organization has been a unique creation – an uplifting and uncommon response to the tragic loss of human life.

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