Four people ceremoniously unfold one of the first AIDS Memorial Quilt panels ever sewn memorializing Marvin Feldman at a special event announcing the return of the historic AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. Thirty-two years ago during the height of the AIDS epidemic, a group of strangers gathered at a San Francisco storefront to remember the names and lives of their loved ones they feared history would forget and created the first panels of The Quilt to remember them. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial)

Four people ceremoniously unfold one of the first AIDS Memorial Quilt panels ever sewn memorializing Marvin Feldman at a special event announcing the return of the historic AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. Thirty-two years ago during the height of the AIDS epidemic, a group of strangers gathered at a San Francisco storefront to remember the names and lives of their loved ones they feared history would forget and created the first panels of The Quilt to remember them. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial)

AIDS Memorial Quilt to return permanently to Bay Area

A quilt paying tribute to the thousands of people who have died from AIDS in the U.S. is returning to San Francisco early next year, making the city where the memorial began in 1987 its permanent home.

Made of more than 50,000 panels commemorating the lives of over 105,000 individuals, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is an ongoing folk art project and visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic. In its 32 years of existence, it has been featured in countless exhibitions nationwide, used to raise awareness, fight prejudice, promote healing and remind people of the work that remains to end the AIDS pandemic.

The NAMES Project Foundation, the Atlanta nonprofit that has overseen the quilt and its associated archives since it was created in 1987, announced Wednesday that the National AIDS Memorial in San Francisco would take over stewardship of the dedicatory quilt and NAMES Project programs beginning in 2020. The quilt’s associated archive of 200,000 personal items and other documents will be maintained by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The announcement was made during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress spoke at the event, with Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, celebrating the quilt’s homecoming.

“On behalf of the people of San Francisco, it is a privilege to welcome the AIDS Memorial Quilt permanently back to the Bay Area,” Pelosi said in a statement. “For over 30 years, the AIDS Quilt has stood as a beautiful tribute to those lost to the devastation of HIV/AIDS and has reminded us all of our responsibility to tell the personal stories lovingly stitched into every panel. We are deeply grateful to the NAMES Project, National AIDS Memorial, and Library of Congress for joining together to ensure that this powerful memorial continues to be a source of comfort, education and engagement for generations to come.”

According to the most recent statistics from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 37.9 million people were living with HIV globally in 2018, 1.7 million of whom were newly infected that year. In the U.S. alone, close to 636,000 people have died from AIDS since 1981, with more than 15,000 Americans having died from AIDS in 2016.

Today, there are more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S. The number of new cases has dropped by nearly 20% since 2008.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt’s move back to the Bay Area from Atlanta should be completed by the end of January at the latest, according to John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial.

Though the National AIDS Memorial plans to build a “Center for Social Conscience” in coming years that will prominently feature the quilt as one of its many social justice-based exhibits, Cunningham said, the quilt will be stored at a secure facility near the Oakland International Airport in the interim.

On Dec. 1, the National AIDS Memorial will observe World AIDS Day with a gathering from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, located in Golden Gate Park at the corner of Nancy Pelosi Drive and Bowling Green Drive.

cmcfarland@sfexaminer.com

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauds the return of the historic commemorative AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial)                                House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauds the return of the historic commemorative AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauds the return of the historic commemorative AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauds the return of the historic commemorative AIDS Memorial Quilt to its original home in San Francisco. (Mike Shriver/ National AIDS Memorial)

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

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