The AIDS Quilt Returns to DC

A panel from the AIDS Quilt honoring the life and legacy of Elizabeth Glaser.

In just a few short weeks, more than 20,000 researchers, political leaders, activists, and journalists will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 19th International AIDS Conference.

While we at the Foundation look forward to this week-long meeting discussing a future without AIDS, we recently had an opportunity to remember those we have lost along the way.

Since the AIDS epidemic began in the United States in 1981, more than 600,000 Americans have died from AIDS-related causes. Many were unable to have funeral services because of the stigma connected to the disease. 

In 1987, six years into the epidemic, families and friends began creating quilt panels to remember loved ones and find strength and support.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which now has 48,000 panels that are preserved by the NAMES Project Foundation. This month it will be displayed on the National Mall for the first time since 1996.

The Quilt would stretch for 50 miles if all the pieces were laid out together, so it will be shown in 60 different displays over a month’s time.

The Quilt will be a part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival until July 8. The panels are unfolded every morning from 10 AM to noon, and are folded up from 5-6 PM. In addition, the “Reading of Names” of those who were lost to the AIDS epidemic is ongoing throughout the day.

Several of us at the Foundation went to look for panels dedicated to Elizabeth Glaser, the founder whose tenacity, love, and dedication we aim to emulate every day when we come to the office.
We arrived early, and by chance, just before her section of the Quilt was going to be put on display on the Mall. We were invited to help unfold those pieces and lay them on the grass.

It was a powerful moment, and a fitting way for us to pay tribute to Elizabeth and the thousands of others represented by those decorated pieces of cloth.

After the Folklife Festival, the Quilt will be displayed at more than 50 locations across the Washington area from July 21-25 for the AIDS 2012 Conference – including Dulles Airport, the Kennedy Center, the

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the National Cathedral, and the Textile Museum, among others.

While we found Elizabeth’s panel by chance, you can use a mobile web app to easily find where individual panels will be on display.

Samantha Ritter is an Assistant in the Foundation’s Global Communications Department in Washington, D.C.