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The Quilt in the Capital

by Greg Lugliani

October 1996

Since it began eight years ago, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has chronicled -- sometimes grimly, sometimes beautifully, always powerfully -- the ravages of AIDS on American society. As it records the history of life in this time of plague, the Quilt consoles the grieving and calls attention to the uniqueness of human life. It advocates for a reasoned and humane response to the epidemic and demands action from our nation's leaders to bring the dying to an end.

No other symbol speaks so eloquently of the international tragedy of AIDS; none so clearly unites the HIV-infected, the HIV-affected, and the AIDS-phobic. As the largest community arts project in history, the Quilt's visual commemoration of lives sparks a dialogue between those who make panels and those who view them, a conversation that allows us to talk about two topics our society often finds difficult to discuss: sex and death.

Seen by over one million people in more than 2,000 different locations each year, the Quilt is the humanity behind the cruel statistics of AIDS. No matter where it is displayed, the Quilt shows how AIDS has touched every community in America.

Yet, even in the epidemic's second decade, political consensus about AIDS is elusive: research and treatment dollars dwindle, and education efforts go unfunded. Although AIDS is the leading cause of death among American men and women aged 25 to 44, it is neither a legislative priority nor an urgent media story. With complacency about AIDS attaining new heights, the time has come again to force national attention on the epidemic by bringing the Quilt to Washington, D.C.

From October 11 to 13, 1996, just four weeks before national elections, The NAMES Project will display the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt on America's front lawn, the National Mall. As 45,000 memorial panels (30 football fields of fabric) are unfolded, the names of the dead will ring out over the open expanse. In all, 70,000 names will be read: more names than carved into the nearby Vietnam War Memorial. The litany of the names of the dead will continue unbroken for three days as 2,000 readers -- elected officials, sports figures, celebrities, community and religious leaders, educators, people with AIDS, family members, friends -- each takes a turn at the podium.

Since its last showing in Washington in 1992, the Quilt has doubled in size, and the need for volunteers has grown accordingly. Hundreds of eight-person teams from all over America will unfold the Quilt in the early hours of October 11, 1996; more than 10,000 volunteers will participate in the three-day display. Approximately 750,000 visitors are expected, including 50,000 school children. Over 26 miles of walkway fabric will allow people to get close to each memorial panel.

The NAMES Project began planning the world's most powerful depiction of the devastation of AIDS (and arguably the greatest demonstration of respect for those lost in this war against a virus) a year and a half in advance of the event. The Project's 40 U.S. chapters and seven regional display committees are working closely with the San Francisco-based NAMES Project Foundation to recruit and train volunteers, and help raise the $1 million needed to make this display happen. A gala fund-raising dinner will be held at the National Building Museum on Friday, October 11, and a Candlelight March Against AIDS will be held on the Ellipse on Saturday, October 12 at 7:00 p.m.

While the three-day event will attract tremendous public attention, the Quilt display will actually culminate a year-long campaign of national awareness and education. Throughout this election year, The NAMES Project and AIDS Action Council are co-sponsoring Remember Them With Your Vote, a nation-wide voter education and registration campaign focusing on AIDS issues and policy. National media and public relations efforts will bring the Quilt into millions of American homes. Through various partnerships with AIDS service providers, advocacy groups, and educational organizations, the AIDS Memorial Quilt will help forge a national consensus and inspire the political action needed to defeat AIDS. As a nation, it will allow us to grieve; as individuals, it will encourage the American people to respond urgently and compassionately to people living with HIV.

Will this be the last display of the entire Quilt? We hope that medical advances in the treatment of HIV disease make it unnecessary for us to bring the whole Quilt to Washington, D.C. again. In physical terms, there is a limited amount of space available in the capital for displaying a Quilt that continues to grow. In response to space limitation problems, the NAMES Project is organizing a greater number of small displays in high schools, churches and libraries. These smaller displays will have a much greater educational impact on those who view them.

Join The NAMES Project in Washington, D.C., October 11 through 13, 1996, for a celebration of lives, a renewal of commitment, and a call to action that will make a world without AIDS exist again.

Greg Lugliani is Director of Communications for The NAMES Project Foundation in San Francisco, California. Feel free to checkout the AIDS Memorial Quilt website at

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