Below is our interview with Janece Shaffer, Director of Communications at The Names Project Foundation. The Names Project Foundation is the international caretaker of The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Find out more about this amazing, ongoing living memorial.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about the AIDS Memorial Quilt? Why was it started?
In October 1987, a group of friends gathered in a San Francisco storefront armed with an idea that would inspire their community, their country and ultimately the world. They gathered to remember the names of friends and loved ones lost to a disease that would be called AIDS. With fabric and markers, needles and thread, fear and hope, loss and love, they began to create what would become The AIDS Memorial Quilt -- the most democratic memorial ever made and the largest ongoing piece of community folk art in the world.
And so what began with a single name and a 3 foot by 6 foot stretch of fabric now includes more than 47,000 panels honoring more than 92,000 people lost to AIDS. This handmade memorial, a testament to entire lifetimes of love and joy, now forms one of the world’s most powerful weapons in the battle to educate about HIV/AIDS.
With teddy bears and Boy Scout badges, wedding rings and faded photographs, The AIDS Memorial Quilt is a vivid reminder that HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any age. It allows us to see not a disease or a set of statistics, but a mother, a child, a father or a brother. By revealing the humanity behind the statistics, The Quilt helps teach compassion, triumphs over taboo, stigma and phobia; and inspires individuals to take direct responsibility for their own well-being and that of their family, friends and community.
2. Does it raise funds for HIV/AIDS? If so, how does that work?
Since its founding in 1987, The NAMES Project Foundation, the international caretaker of The Quilt, has raised more than $4 million for direct services for people with AIDS.
The NAMES Project is committed to caring for the aging, handmade 54-ton AIDS Memorial Quilt so that it’s life saving messages can be shared with future generations. The costs associated with hosting a display of The Quilt also go to supporting and maintaining this important American treasure.
3. What is the Quilt made out of?
The Quilt is made up of 3-foot by 6-foot cloth panels that were created one at a time for individuals lost to HIV/AIDS and eight of these panels are bundled together to create a 12-foot by 12-foot section of Quilt. Every display of The Quilt is composed of these 12-foot by 12-foot Quilt sections.
The 47,000 panels of The Quilt are as unique as the individuals they memorialize and they include wedding rings, love letters, half a bowling ball, oil paintings, 100-year old quilts, snorkel masks, human hair, cowboy boots, shower curtain, photographs, stuffed animals, tuxedos – and so much more.
4. What is the historical and ongoing significance of the Quilt?
The AIDS Memorial Quilt is an ever changing, living memorial dedicated to the mission of remembrance, education, inspiration and conscience. And The NAMES Project works to preserve, care for and use The AIDS Memorial Quilt to foster healing, advance social justice and inspire action.
Throughout its history The Quilt – now recognized through an act of Congress as an American Treasure - has been used to fight prejudice, raise awareness and funding, as a means to link hands with the global community in the fight against AIDS, and as an effective tool in HIV and AIDS education and prevention
New single panels arrive at The NAMES Project on a regular basis and sections of The Quilt are continuously on display across the country – in middle and high schools, on college campuses, in places of worship, community centers, businesses, government centers and corporations – making the realities of HIV/AIDS shockingly real and moving to each of us regardless of ethnicity, class or social group.
Wherever it is displayed, The Quilt provides balm for the painful wounds of grief, pours oil into the waters made turbulent by controversy, opens eyes that refuse to see and enlists every person who experiences it to play a role in stopping the pandemic. It is difficult to walk away from The Quilt unchanged.
To learn more, please visit - The Names Project Foundation