This summer, San Francisco will host the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in a decade, organizers announced.

3,000 hand-stitched panels will be on display for the thousands expected on Robin Williams Meadow and in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in June. It will be a free event marking the quilt’s 35th anniversary.

The quilt now contains more than 54 tons of fabric, has over 50,000 individual panels and over 110,000 names memorialized on it.

“Bring family, bring friends,” said AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham, who was a community organizer in San Francisco’s Castro District in the 1980s and ’90s. “Experience the largest community arts project on earth.”

During the June display, people will be able to see more than 100 new panels that have never before been seen. Many were made as part of the “Call My Name” program, which aims to raise even more awareness of the crisis facing communities of color, especially in the South, where rates of infection are rising.

To honor and remember the names and stories of the people lost to the crisis, 350 12-foot by 12-foot blocks will be placed on the ground. Each block will have eight 3-foot by 6-foot panels, each panel representing the size of a grave.

The event will be the largest display of the quilt in San Francisco ever and the largest display of it anywhere since 2012 when it was on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

A traditional unfolding of the quilt will start at 9:30 a.m. June 11 and then the names of those lost will be read aloud over the two-day period.

Recognizing communities of color

Organizers are particularly interested in placing an emphasis on communities of color, specifically Black and Hispanic communities, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.

The focus will be on making sure there is access to health care and access to treatment for those most impacted.

Organizers want to eventually get to a place where zero new infections are occurring, Cunningham said.

Many of the panels to be displayed were made during the worst days of the crisis, while others will be from more recent days.

“The Quilt remains an important symbol of hope, activism and remembrance that reaches millions of people each year, opening hearts and minds,” said Alex Kalomparis, senior vice president, Gilead Sciences, a long-time partner of the quilt and its programs, in a statement.

Gilead Sciences gave $2.4 million to the National AIDS Memorial in 2019 to move the quilt back to San Francisco from Atlanta.

“The Quilt remains an important symbol of hope, activism and remembrance that reaches millions of people each year, opening hearts and minds.”

Alex Kalomparis, Gilead Sciences

The origins of the quilt project began in June 1987, when a group of strangers led by activist Cleve Jones came together to start making it. Jones and the others aimed to document lives they were afraid history would forget.

That meeting served as the basis for The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which activists saw as a way to encourage the government to take action to end the crisis. Each panel at that time was 3-feet by 6-feet.

“What started as a protest to demand action turned into a national movement that served as a wake-up call to the nation that thousands upon thousands of people were dying,” Jones said in a statement.

“Today, the Quilt is just as relevant and even more important, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, and the fact that the struggles we face today that result from health and social inequities are the issues we will face again in the future if we don’t learn from the lessons of the past,” Jones said.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt will go on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both June 11 and 12 in Robin William’s Meadow and the Aids Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.