The Quilt and its Journey
Although the fight for recognizing AIDS was messy and ugly, the idea of the Quilt came from peace.
The AIDS Quilt is laid out on the National Mall July 23, 2012 as part of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages
The Quilt was conceived in 1987 when Cleve Jones made the first panel for his friend, Marvin Feldman, who succumbed to the virus. The 3’ x 6’ panel represents the standard size of a grave plot. Jones came up with the idea when planning a San Francisco LGBT march; he noticed that when the names of the deceased were lined up, they resembled a patchwork quilt. Later, many other friends, family, and loved ones followed suit to make their own panels.
Here is a short timeline of the Quilt’s journey.
- October 1987: The Quilt was displayed on the National Mall for the first time. At this time, it held 1,920 victims’ names.
- October 1988: After traveling across the U.S., the Quilt was displayed on the Ellipse in front of the White House, bearing 8,288 names.
- October 1992: The Quilt, including names from all 50 states and 28 countries, returned to the National Mall.
- January 1993: The NAMES Project (which cared for the Quilt in Atlanta) marched in President Clinton’s inaugural parade, and 200 volunteers carried Quilt panels down Pennsylvania Avenue.
- October 1996: The last display of the entire AIDS Quilt covered the entire National Mall. This was also the first time a sitting president (Clinton) visited the Quilt.
- June-July 2012: Over the course of two weeks, the entire AIDS Quilt was once again presented on the National Mall, with 1,500 blocks of panels being displayed each day. It was now too large to present in its entirety on the Mall all at once, so it was also displayed at 50 locations around the city, including Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
- March-April 2023: Three panels of the AIDS quilt make their appearance at Arena Stage. It will stay there for the duration of Angels in America Part One: The Millennium Approaches, running until April 23rd, 2023.
Today, the Quilt has over 100,000 names on it, and would stretch 56 miles if each panel was laid side by side. It is considered the largest piece of community art in the world, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Photos of the AIDS Quilt Display by Margot Schulman.
While each block of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt holds many names, the panels we have chosen to display each include someone important to Arena Stage and the work that we do. These panels acknowledge:
- Roy Cohn, an inspiration for the character of the same name in Angels in America and a deeply divisive figure known for his public anti-gay rhetoric.
- Choreographer, dancer, director, and activist Alvin Ailey best known for founding the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
- Lyricist, playwright, and director Howard Ashman. Ashman, a co-creator of Little Shop of Horrors and famous Disney collaborator, directed God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, for which he also wrote the book and lyrics, at Arena in 1981. It was performed on the Fichandler Stage – the same stage where Angels in America is being performed.
Angels in America is playing in the Fichandler Stage until April 23rd. Get your tickets here!