Cleve Jones

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is an enormous quilt made as a memorial to and celebration of the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. It weighs 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world and it remains the largest community arts project in the world.

The idea for the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was thought of in 1985 by AIDS activist Cleve Jones during the candlelight march, in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. For the march, Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs that would be taped to the San Francisco Federal Building. All the signs taped to the building looked like an enormous patchwork quilt, and Jones was inspired. The Quilt is a memorial to and celebration of the lives of people lost to the AIDS pandemic. Each panel is 3' by 6', approximately the size of the average grave; this connects the ideas of AIDS and death more closely, even though only about 20% of the people lost to AIDS related causes are represented.

The Quilt is still maintained and displayed by The NAMES Project Foundation and was officially started in 1987 in San Francisco by Cleve Jones, and Mike Smith with a group of volunteers, Larkin Mayo and Gary Yuschalk. At that time many people who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals, due to both the social stigma of AIDS felt by surviving family members and the outright refusal by many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the deceased's remains. Lacking a memorial service or grave site, The Quilt was often the only opportunity survivors had to remember and celebrate their loved ones' lives. The Quilt was last displayed in full on The Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1996.

In observance of National HIV-Testing Day in June 2004 the 1,000 newest blocks were displayed by the Foundation on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. The largest display of The Quilt since it was last displayed in its entirety in October 1996, the 1,000 blocks displayed consisted of every panel submitted at or after the 1996 display. The NAMES Project Foundation is now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and has 21 chapters in the United States and more than 40 affiliate organizations world-wide. The AIDS Memorial Quilt itself is also warehoused in Atlanta when not being displayed, and continues to grow, currently consisting of more than 46,000 individual memorial panels (over 91,000 people) and weighing an estimated 54 tons.