54 Tons of Quilt
The AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall. Photo by About Washington D.C.
Although it can hardly be deemed a celebration, last year marked the 25th birthday of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Since it was started in 1987, the quilt has grown to include 94,000 names and 48,000 3’ x 6’ panels, each approximately the size of a human grave, and each memorializing someone who has died with the disease. It now measures 1.3 million square feet and it weighs 108,000 pounds, or 54 tons. It is the largest community art project in the world.
In the 25 years since the AIDS Memorial Quilt was first created, HIV/AIDS has reached epidemic proportions throughout the globe. According to a report published jointly by UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF, based on 2010 data, 34 million adults and children now live with HIV/AIDS, and millions have died because of it.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been instrumental in increasing public awareness about HIV/AIDS; it has helped raise over $4 million for AIDS service organizations; and it has been credited with helping to change misinformed and negative attitudes about the disease.
In 1989, it won an Academy Award (for Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, a 1989 documentary by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman featuring profiles of several people memorialized in the AIDS Quilt). Also in 1989, it was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2005, it received a “Save America’s Treasures” grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As a visual reminder of AIDS’ continuing human toll, the quilt has been written about, studied, and interpreted in performance time and time again. It is arguably the most famous quilt in the world.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been fully displayed only three times: in 1987, 1988, and 1996, and each time was on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Because the quilt is already so enormous and continually growing larger, the only place that it is now possible to see it in one place is the internet.
The Research Division of Microsoft Corporation—partnering with the University of Southern California and the NAMES Project Foundation (the nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia that serves as the custodian of the AIDS Memorial Quilt)—has created a map of the entire quilt.
The map allows users not only to look at the quilt in its entirety, but because it is fully zoomable, any of the 94,000 names currently on the quilt can be examined as well. It is the largest digitized art quilt in the world.
Those who have made a panel for a lost loved one to include in the AIDS Memorial Quilt invariably say that doing so has helped them navigate the depths of grief. Quilts have been helping their makers heal for a very long time, but it can be said of the AIDS Quilt that it has contributed to more healing than any quilt in the world.
That fact alone is a legacy to be honored.
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