Quilting With Conscience: Taking a Look at the NAMES AIDS Memorial Quilt

Mary-Alice Farina

The art of quilting lends itself very easily to projects that make a difference. Here at 24 Blocks we will bring you a stories of a quilting projects that have done just that.

6a00d83451c46169e20133ed753109970b-500wiPerhaps the most well-known quilt with a conscience is the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in the world. The project began in 1987 when group of strangers gathered in San Francisco to memorialize friends they had lost to the AIDS pandemic, then gripping the public consciousness for the first time.

Quick Facts
ï Funds raised by the Quilt for direct services for people with AIDS: over $4,000,000 (U.S.)
ï Number of visitors to the Quilt: 18,000,000
ï Number of names on the Quilt: 91,000
ï Size: 1,293,300 square feet
ï Viewing time: To see the entire Quilt spending only one minute per panel ñ over 33 days

History and Context

From the NAMES Project Foundation‘s history of the quilt:

The Quilt was conceived in November of 1985 by long-time San Francisco gay rights activist Cleve Jones. Since the 1978 assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, Jones had helped organize the annual candlelight march honoring these men. While planning the 1985 march, he learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to AIDS. He asked each of his fellow marchers to write on placards the names of friends and loved ones who had died of AIDS. At the end of the march, Jones and others stood on ladders taping these placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. The wall of names looked like a patchwork quilt.

Inspired by this sight, Jones and friends made plans for a larger memorial. A little over a year later, he created the first panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt in memory of his friend Marvin Feldman. In June of 1987, Jones teamed up with Mike Smith and several others to formally organize the NAMES Project Foundation.


6a00d83451c46169e20133ed754972970b-500wi (1)The public response to the quilt was immediate. Panels poured into the San Fransisco workshop from all over the country. The organizers decided it was time to take it to a bigger audience. The Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 11, 1987, and went on a 20-city US tour the following year. The tour raised nearly $500,000 for AIDS-related service organizations.

The Quilt continued to grow, being displayed several times in Washington, D.C. until 1996 when it covered the entire Mallóall 146 acres of it.

Today the Quilt continues to attract visitors and contributors all over the world. The AIDS Memorial Quilt Archive is a photography documentary project which aims “to preserve the powerful images and stories contained withing the Quilt while expanding our AIDS awareness and HIV prevention education efforts.”

Learn how to visit the Quilt here.

See below for some examples of memorial blocks:


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