The Center's primary mission is to document, advance and disseminate knowledge about this global tragedy with a special focus on the social and political aspects of AIDS; to articulate cross-cultural patterns that have been the defining features of the AIDS epidemic; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the AIDS epidemic as well as their own responsibilities as citizens to help to diminish the catastrophic impact of this health crisis.
The proposed Center for AIDS and Humanity aligns itself philosophically with other international museums of conscience by promoting tolerance and understanding. The Center will aim to stimulate dialogue on the pressing social issues that have been the result of the AIDS epidemic, and will encourage a global and humanitarian approach to dealing with the present and future ramifications of the disease. By dealing with racism, homophobia and the other aspects of intolerance the AIDS epidemic has revealed, the Center will address issues that far transcend the disease itself-thus making it a place for all people.
As a major metropolitan center, Atlanta is a representative American city that has been deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic. As elsewhere, the epidemic has stimulated grassroots activism -- at first emanating from the gay community, and then expanding to Atlanta's many diverse communities. There are many local individual and organizational stories to tell. At the same time, Atlanta is a center for global activity in health, humanitarian, political and environmental research and action, and has many ties to the continent of Africa. The Centers for Disease Control, The Carter Center, and CARE are among the agencies headquartered in close proximity to Emory University, a major research center. Because of the city's many possibilities, the NAMES quilt commemorating over 80,000 people who have died of AIDS has been moved from San Francisco to be housed in Atlanta. Thus, Atlanta can place faces on the history of the AIDS epidemic by telling its own history. At the same time, it is a gateway to the international history of the epidemic, and is on the frontlines of dealing with the current global situation.
While one of the goals of the Center is to create an area in the 159 Center building for permanent exhibits, political gatherings and cultural events, input from community members has expanded the vision of the Center to intentionally pursue partnerships with other organizations. In addition to providing sources of information for the various projects of the Center, it is hoped that these partnerships will allow the various exhibits to travel into the community. Ultimately, the Center hopes to have a number of exhibits that can be made accessible at any given time to schools, churches, civic and service organizations, and private corporations.
Although it could take years for the full vision of the Center to become a reality, the members of the initial steering committee felt that the true test of the Center lies in its ability to produce exhibits of meaningful content and high quality. Rather than waiting until all funding has been secured and the permanent staff hired, the decision was made to go forward immediately with plans for a first exhibit. Working with an advisory group, Dr. Saralyn Chestnut of Emory University and Louise E. Shaw, former Executive Director of Nexus Contemporary Art Center, have begun work on an oral history project that will document well-known and not so well-known heroes from the Black community in Atlanta who were AIDS activists, volunteers, health care providers and visionaries in the early days of the epidemic. Using the oral histories as a departure point, the goal of the project is to develop a well-researched, historically accurate, creative and versatile exhibition to introduce the Center for AIDS and Humanity to the public and demonstrate the potential of such an initiative.
Additional information regarding the pilot project will be made available in the coming months.