This year marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and to mark the occasion the quilt is on display at the National Mall for the first time in 16 years. As part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 8,000 of its panels have been laid out in downtown Washington to remember and celebrate the lives of the people who died of AIDS-related causes. The entire quilt has now grown to 1.3 million square feet — far too large, organizers say, to display in full. But those who would like to see the quilt in person but are unable to make a trip to the Mall can go to a website that helps them search the entire quilt online.
Friends, family, or loved ones of those who died of AIDS sent in most of the panels for the quilt, which is managed and maintained by the NAMES Project Foundation. “The quilt challenges us to recognize that we are all connected and responsible for each other. It makes all the stories ours,” said Julie Rhoad, the president of the foundation. When the project started in 1987 organizers thought the disease would be cured and the panels would be returned within five years, added Rhoad.
Instead, nearly 619,400 people in the U.S. have died of AIDS since the first cases of the disease appeared in the early 1980s, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a cure has yet to be discovered.