AIDS Me­mo­rial Quilt vis­i­tor cen­ter to open in down­town At­lanta

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

In 1985, seven years after San Francisco City Su­per­vi­sor Har­vey Milk was as­sas­si­nated, ac­tivist Cleve Jones asked those march­ing in the an­nual can­dle­light vigil to honor Milk and Mayor Ge­orge Moscone’s mem­o­ries by writ­ing the names of the 1,000 peo­ple who died of AIDS in the city that year on signs and plac­ards.

When the march reached San Francisco’s Fed­eral Build­ing, Jones and other or­ga­niz­ers be­gan tap­ing the signs to the build­ing. When they stepped back to take in all the names, the patch­work of signs looked like a quilt. Within a few years, the NAMES Project Foun­da­tion – the AIDS Me­mo­rial Quilt – was born.

Now, over 30 years later, the Quilt is the world’s largest AIDS me­mo­rial, with an es­ti­mated 56 tons’ worth of pan­els de­signed by fam­ily and friends of those who’ve been lost. The ma­jor­ity of those pan­els – those not on dis­play in nu­mer­ous venues around the world – have been housed in Mid­town At­lanta since 2002 along with the of­fices of the NAMES Project Foun­da­tion. And the or­ga­ni­za­tion is now in the process of mov­ing its head­quar­ters to a 2,500 square foot store­front down­town that will serve as a vis­i­tor and ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter, while the bulk of the Quilt will be housed in a 4,200 square foot ware­house in Tucker. Both lo­ca­tions will open in June.

“We moved here in the early 2000s be­cause At­lanta was at the cen­ter of re­search sur­round­ing HIV/AIDS with the CDC and other agen­cies, and, sadly, one of the na­tion’s lead­ing cen­ters of new in­fec­tions. We wanted to be­come part of the com­mu­nity and help change the con­ver­sa­tion and shift the nar­ra­tive,” ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Julie Rhoad told Ge­or­gia Voice dur­ing our visit to the new fa­cil­ity.

Bridg­ing gap be­tween dig­i­tal, phys­i­cal

The Quilt reg­u­larly hosts groups of stu­dents, ac­tivists and tourists, but the cur­rent fa­cil­ity on 14th Street wasn’t built to have such large groups mov­ing in and out and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and work­shops. The new fa­cil­ity in the down­town tourist dis­trict on Luckie Street will have space for nearly 150 peo­ple.

“Many peo­ple have asked us why we don’t just do a dig­i­tal quilt – but the level of de­tail that be­comes avail­able on­line doesn’t com­pare to sit­ting down and choos­ing what artis­tic tools we’ll use and the ma­te­ri­als we’ll em­ploy,” Rhoad said. “It’s the sto­ries be­hind all of these that bridge the gap be­tween the dig­i­tal and the phys­i­cal.”

To bridge that gap, the NAMES Project has been de­vel­op­ing an app to help vis­i­tors to the cen­ter in At­lanta and view­ers from around the world round out their ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of doc­u­ments, wed­ding rings, pho­tographs and all sorts of things that peo­ple send with the pan­els that tell the story of the peo­ple be­hind the pan­els,” Rhoad said. “Vis­i­tors will be able to add sto­ries and back­ground on their loved one on­line through the app along with the pan­els they cre­ate.”

The new fa­cil­ity will also house a ta­ble-top, in­ter­ac­tive ver­sion of the app that can show the en­tire Quilt as one or zoom in to il­lu­mi­nate in­di­vid­ual pan­els and sto­ries. Anne Bal­samo, one of the NAMES Project’s board mem­bers who’s lead­ing the work on the app, hopes the new fa­cil­ity will be a “beta site” to dive into the idea of con­nect­ing peo­ple to the quilt dig­i­tally so they can com­pel peo­ple to dig deeper.

The vis­i­tors cen­ter will reg­u­larly ro­tate and dis­play pan­els from the larger quilt for drop-in vis­i­tors. Ad­di­tion­ally, with a lit­tle bit of pre-plan­ning, vis­i­tors can re­quest spe­cific pan­els be put on dis­play for their visit.

“It helps that our ware­house is only 20 min­utes away. We can run over there and grab a sec­tion if some­one wants to see it,” Rhoad said.

‘56 tons of fab­ric sen­ti­ment and love’

The Quilt’s new vis­i­tors cen­ter is ac­ces­si­ble from MARTA’s Peachtree Cen­ter sta­tion and the At­lanta Street­car passes right out­side the new fa­cil­ity. The build­ing is just steps away from Cen­ten­nial Park and the other tourist at­trac­tions, which Rhoad hopes will en­cour­age more peo­ple to come learn about the Quilt and the lega­cies of those who are memo­ri­al­ized.

“We’re go­ing to start host­ing panel-mak­ing work­shops so peo­ple can come in and make ev­ery­thing right here. We’ll have all of the ma­te­ri­als they will need,” she said.

Mak­ing a panel is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful state­ment for many.

“We know that our fam­ily would lay down their lives for us – but most of our grand­moth­ers or par­ents prob­a­bly wouldn’t chain them­selves to desks at the NIH [Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health] or march with ACT UP, though some of them did,” Rhoad said. “The Quilt gives them a way to honor the life of their grand­child or child and trans­form it into ed­u­ca­tion and ac­tivism and make sure that life could live on.”

The AIDS Me­mo­rial Quilt’s new fa­cil­ity is sched­uled to open on June 1 with a flurry of events in part­ner­ship with agen­cies across At­lanta. Be­fore then, vol­un­teers and staff are work­ing to get all of the fa­cil­i­ties in or­der – though Rhoad notes that both in-per­son vol­un­teers and fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions are very wel­come.

“We’re charged with a re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for 56 tons of fab­ric sen­ti­ment and love,” she said. “That’s an enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­ity. Mem­ory isn’t just a thing of the past. The chal­lenge is mak­ing it rel­e­vant and teach­ing it in this day and age, and the Quilt does that in per­son in ways that many mon­u­ments can’t.”

By ROB­BIE MEDWED

April 14, 2017

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