NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt

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NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt
LocationUnited States

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often abbreviated to AIDS Memorial Quilt or AIDS Quilt, is a memorial to celebrate the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world as of 2020.[1] It was conceived in 1985, during the early years of the AIDS pandemic, when social stigma prevented many AIDS victims from receiving funerals. It has been displayed on the Mall in Washington, D.C. several times. In 2020, it returned to the AIDS Memorial in San Francisco, and can also be seen virtually.[2]

History and structure[edit]

Fresno State University students making a quilt panel in 1994
Former NAMES Project Building at 2362 Market St in San Francisco

The idea for the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was conceived on November 27, 1985, by AIDS activist Cleve Jones during the annual candlelight march, in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.[3] For the march, Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs, and then they taped the signs to the old San Francisco Federal Building.[4] All the signs taped to the building looked like an enormous patchwork quilt to Jones, and he was inspired.[5]

The NAMES Project officially started in 1987 in San Francisco by Jones, Mike Smith, and volunteers Joseph Durant, Jack Caster, Gert McMullin, Ron Cordova, Larkin Mayo, Steve Kirchner, and Gary Yuschalk.[3] At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased's remains.[6] Lacking a memorial service or grave site, the Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones' lives. Volunteers created hundreds and later thousands of panels in a storefront on Market Street.[7]

The first showing of The Quilt took place on October 11, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights.[8][9] The Quilt was last displayed in full on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996,[10] a display that included a visit by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton,[11] but it returned in July 2012 to coincide with the start of the XIX International AIDS Conference.[12]

The Quilt is a memorial to and celebration of the lives of people lost to the AIDS pandemic which marks it as a prominent forerunner of the twentieth century shift in memorial design that moved towards celebrating victims or survivors.[3] Each panel is 3 feet (0.91 m) by 6 feet (1.8 m), approximately the size of the average grave; this connects the ideas of AIDS and death more closely.[13] The Quilt is still maintained and displayed by The NAMES Project Foundation.

In observance of National HIV-Testing Day in June 2004 the 1,000 newest blocks were displayed by the Foundation on The Ellipse in Washington, D.C.[14] The largest display of The Quilt since it was last displayed in its entirety in October 1996, the 1,000 blocks displayed consisted of every panel submitted at or after the 1996 display.

In 1997, the NAMES Project headquarters moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and in 2001 the quilt panels were moved from San Francisco to Atlanta, Georgia.[15] The NAMES Project Foundation was headquartered in Atlanta.

In 2019, the organization announced that the Quilt would be relocating to San Francisco under the care of the National AIDS Memorial. In 2020, its archives were relocated to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The AIDS Memorial Quilt is warehoused in San Francisco when not being displayed, and continues to grow, currently[when?] consisting of more than 48,000 individual memorial panels (to over 94,000 people) and weighing an estimated 54 tons.[16]

Goal and achievement[edit]

The goal of the Quilt is to bring awareness to how massive the AIDS pandemic really is, and to bring support and healing to those affected by it. Another goal is to raise funds for community-based AIDS service organizations, to increase their funding for AIDS prevention and education. As of 1996, more than $1.7 million had already been raised, and the effort continues to this day.[17]

Quilt construction and care[edit]

3 by 6 feet (0.91 m × 1.83 m) panels made typically of fabric are created in recognition of a person who died from AIDS-related complications. The panels are made by individuals alone or in a workshop, such as Call My Name (which focuses on African American representation on the quilt) or in quilting bees, such as the one held during the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival[18] on the National Mall. Construction choices are left to the quilter and techniques such as traditional fabric quilting, embroidery, applique, paint and stencil, beading, and iron-ons are common.[19]

Items and materials included in the panels:

Panels are submitted to the National AIDS Memorial, along with a panel-maker identification form and a documentation letter. Occasionally, other supplemental material is donated along with the panel such as photographs of the subject. The information about the panel is recorded in a database.[19]

Panels are backed in canvas and sewn together in blocks of eight. Grommets for hanging are attached and the blocks are numbered and photographed. The numbers help with identification and location in storage, on the quilt website, and when the quilt is displayed.[20]

Examples of panels[edit]

Those who submit panels do not have to know the person, but they do have to feel some sort of connection with the individual that they want people to recognize. For example, to memorialize Queen lead-singer Freddie Mercury, there were many panels made, two of which were a solid white background with a blue and black guitar, and "Freddy Mercury" written down the sides in black, with the AIDS ribbon above his name,[21] and a purple silk with "Freddie Mercury", "Queen", and "1946–1991" in silver applique, along with two pictures of Mercury with Queen.[22]

Many panels were also made for the actor Rock Hudson, one of which consisted of a navy blue background with silver "Rock Hudson" and stars, above a rainbow with the word "Hollywood".[23]

Other panels are made by loved ones and then attached to make one large block. Some are flamboyant and loud, whereas some are more muted and simple.[24]

Recognition and influence[edit]

Panels have been accessioned into the collection[25] of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History (accession number 1998.0254.01)[26] and featured in the book The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects.



  • The Quilt is the subject of the 1989 Peabody Award- and Academy Award-winning documentary film, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, produced by Rob Epstein[29] and Bill Couturié, and narrated by Dustin Hoffman.
  • Never to Be Forgotten is a Philo T. Farnsworth Award-winning 54-minute video created by Karen Peper which documents the Quilt's June 1988 visit to Detroit, Michigan.[30] This display was part of a 20-city tour initiated immediately after the 1987 Washington, DC inaugural showing. The video begins with footage of the opening ceremony from the Washington DC display and then moves to coverage of the Detroit event. Included are the opening and closing ceremonies at Cobo Hall along with a look at the set up and take down of the display. Volunteers share their feelings about participating in the event and the viewer is given a close-up look at the individual panels. Peper also shot extensive footage of the Quilt's visit to Columbus, OH; Chicago, IL; and the 1987, 1993, and 1996 Washington, D.C., showings. (All video footage is archived at ONE Archives at the USC Libraries in Los Angeles, CA.)


  • Songwriter Tom Brown wrote the song "Jonathan Wesley Oliver, Jr." about the Quilt in 1988.[31]
  • In 1990, John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1, inspired by The AIDS Memorial Quilt, premiered in New York.[32]
  • Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, a song cycle developed in the late 1980s with music by Janet Hood and lyrics and additional text by Bill Russell, features songs and monologues inspired by The Quilt.[33]
  • In 1992 The AIDS Quilt Songbook premiered, a collection of new musical works about the devastation of AIDS compiled by lyric baritone William Parker, who solicited them from composers with whom he had previously worked.[34]
  • Washington D.C.'s Different Drummers (DCDD) and the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington (LGCW) commissioned Quilt Panels from composer Robert Maggio, and the piece premiered in 2003.[35]
  • The NAMES Project was the basis for the musical Quilt, A Musical Celebration.[36]



  • Cartoonist Gerard Donelan, specializing in single-panel comics depicting gay men and women in everyday life, contributed cartoons, pamphlets, and posters to the NAMES Project. These pieces were meant to spread awareness about safe-sex practices for gay people and to garner support for the NAMES Project.[39]

Projects inspired by NAMES[edit]

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was the first of its kind as a continually growing monument created piecemeal by thousands of individuals, and as of 2007, it constituted the largest piece of community folk art in the world.[40] The Quilt was followed by, and inspired a number of memorials and awareness projects, both AIDS-related and otherwise. Examples of these include:

There are also quilts for sub-sects of the AIDS Pandemic, including Children, 2010,[49] North Californians, 2008,[50] Australians, 2009,[51] New Zealand, 2017.[52]

"Virtual" AIDS Memorial Quilts have also been created:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a quilt volunteer, McMullin, made protective masks for community service organizations from quilting fabric.[58]

Display location[edit]

AIDS Memorial Quilt co-founders Cleve Jones and Mike Smith stand with John B. Cunningham, National AIDS Memorial Executive Director, on World AIDS Day 2019 in San Francisco.

In November 2019 the NAMES Project Foundation and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the quilt would relocate to San Francisco under the permanent care and stewardship of the National AIDS Memorial starting in 2020.[59] The Project's archives were gifted to the joint care with the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, allowing for greater public access.[60][61] This action returns the quilt to San Francisco, where the project began.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About- The Names Project". The Aids Memorial Quilt. The Names Project Foundation. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  2. ^ "History". 2022-11-29. Retrieved 2022-11-29.
  3. ^ a b c Dupré, Judith (2007). Monuments: America's History in Art and Memory. New York: Random House. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-4000-6582-0.
  4. ^ "AIDS Memorial Quilt". WTTW Chicago Public Media - Television and Interactive. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  5. ^ "History of the Quilt". The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
  6. ^ Laderman, Gary (2003). Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth Century America. Oxford University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0195183559.
  7. ^ Waters, Rob (Spring–Summer 2017). "He's Still Rising". San Francisco State Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 August 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  8. ^ "AIDS Quilt displayed on the National Mall". Smithsonian Institution. View original. 1987-10-11. Retrieved 2020-10-09.
  9. ^ Hirshman, Linda (2012). "Chapter 7: ACT UP: Five Years That Shook the World". Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. New York, New York: Harper. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-06-196550-0. As part of that project, in 1987, the NAMES Project took the quilt, then two thousand squares, to the National Mall in Washington, DC, and spread it out before the lawmakers they thought could make the United States government do something different.
  10. ^ "AIDS quilt unfurled in Washington to commemorate victims". CNN. 1996-10-11. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  11. ^ "Clintons visit AIDS quilt". UPI. 11 October 1996. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  12. ^ "AIDS Memorial Quilt returning to D.C." Washington Blade. 2012-06-06. Retrieved 2012-06-08.
  13. ^ "The AIDS Memorial Quilt". Public Broadcasting Atlanta. February 23, 2009. Archived from the original on March 5, 2009.
  14. ^ Fernandez, Manny (June 26, 2004). "Unfurling Their Love and Loss;". The Washington Post. pp. B01.
  15. ^ "AIDS quilt moving to Atlanta from SF". Associated Press. 2001-02-07. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  16. ^ "The AIDS Memorial Quilt". Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  17. ^ Ellis, Fay (April 7, 1996). "32,000 Panels in Aids Quilt, 32,000 Victims". The New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  18. ^ "2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival". Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  19. ^ a b "Step-by-step instructions". The AIDS Memorial Quit : The Names Project Foundation. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Creativity in Crisis - Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt - Displaying the Quilt - Quilt Vocabulary". Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  21. ^ "Freddy Mercury AIDS quilt panel". Flickr. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  22. ^ "Freddie Mercury AIDS Quilt panel". Flickr. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  23. ^ "Rock Hudson AIDS Quilt panel". Flickr. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  24. ^ "AIDS Quilt panel". Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  25. ^ "AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  26. ^ "Talk of the Nation: A Quarter-Century Of Memories Unfurl In AIDS Quilt". NPR. July 5, 2012.
  27. ^ Sheldon Woods, C. (2007). "AIDS Memorial Quilt". In Anderson, Gary L.; Herr, Kathryn G. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. SAGE Publications. pp. 60–61. ISBN 9781452265650.
  28. ^ "Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  29. ^ Plant, Drew (2003-03-01). "Songbird with a Mission". A&U Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2008-03-26.
  30. ^ Francis, William (1988-12-15). "Two New AIDS Videos Out on the Market". Bay Area Reporter. Vol. 18, no. 50. p. 37. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  31. ^ Gieseke, Winston (2011-08-09). "Lee Lessack Sings Songs of Love". Advocate. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  32. ^ Rockwell, John (1990-03-18). "Review/Music; Contemporary Anguish In Corigliano Symphony". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  33. ^ Gioia, Michael (2014-01-23). "PLAYBILL VIP SPOTLIGHT: Bill Russell Shares Elegies of the AIDS Epidemic With College Students at Marymount Manhattan". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  34. ^ Kozinn, Allan (1993-03-30). "William Parker, Baritone, Dies; Specialist in Art Songs Was 49". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  35. ^ "QUODLIBET: Music to Rejoice, Reflect, and Remember". The Esoterics. 2012. Archived from the original on 2019-08-07. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  36. ^ Hetrick, Adam (2019-05-21). "Diana DeGarmo and Andrew Leeds Set for Quilt, A Musical Celebration Benefit Concert". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  37. ^ Bidwell, Carol (1998-06-18). "'General Hospital' raises funds to fight pediatric AIDS". Deseret News. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  38. ^ Passalacqua, Connie (1992-08-28). "Strong Dose of Reality for ABC's 'One Life to Live' : Television: The soap shows eight sections of the Names Project AIDS Quilt to conclude a summer-long plot examining homophobia and a gay teen character". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  39. ^ Clark, Emily. "Celebrating LGBT Pride Month with Plymouth gay artist Gerard Donelan". Wicked Local Wareham. Retrieved 2019-11-27.
  40. ^ McKinley, Jesse (2007-01-31). "Fight Over Quilt Reflects Changing Times in Battle Against AIDS". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  41. ^ "KIA Memorial Quilt - Dedicated to US Military Personnel Killed in Iraq". Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  42. ^ "September 11 Quilts Home Page". 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  43. ^ "United in Memory". United in Memory. 2001-09-11. Archived from the original on 2016-11-05. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  44. ^ "9-11 Memorial Quilt Project Home Page". 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  45. ^ "Americas 9/11 Memorial Quilts". Archived from the original on July 28, 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  46. ^ "HD Memorial Quilts". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  47. ^ "Thechdquilt". 2017-02-14. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  48. ^ "Breast Cancer Quilt". Archived from the original on 2006-05-04. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  49. ^ "Clinical Centers, Departments and Services | Boston Children's Hospital". Archived from the original on 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  50. ^ "AIDS Panels of Remembrance, Stonewall Chico". Archived from the original on 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  51. ^ "Australian Aids Quilt". Archived from the original on 2009-10-30. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
  52. ^ "The New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt". Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  53. ^ "Project Stitch –". Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  54. ^ Vollmer, Sabine (2010-12-03). "Visiting Second Life to see the 3D AIDS quilt « Science in the Triangle". Archived from the original on 2010-12-10. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  55. ^ "AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts: Virtual AIDS Quilt". Archived from the original on 2010-12-10. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  56. ^ "Southern AIDS Living Quilt — Women Joining Together Fighting HIV/AIDS in the South". Archived from the original on 2009-03-31. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
  57. ^ "Memorial-Columbians Who Have Died From AIDS". Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  58. ^ Sheeler, Jason (2020-04-09). "Leftover Fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt Is Now Being Used to Make Coronavirus Masks". People Magazine. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  59. ^ Johnson, Lauren M. (21 November 2019). "The AIDS Memorial Quilt will head home to San Francisco, 32 years later". CNN News. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  60. ^ Ruane, Michael E. "The Library of Congress will house the archives of the famous AIDS quilt". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  61. ^ "National AIDS Memorial Becomes Steward of AIDS Memorial Quilt". National AIDS Memorial. Archived from the original on 22 March 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2019.

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