About the Quilt

About the AIDS Memorial Quilt

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was conceived in November of 1985 by long-time San Francisco gay rights activist, Cleve Jones. Jones was an organizer of the 1985 annual march held in honor of former mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. Jones had learned that over 1,000 San Franciscans had died of AIDS. Jones asked participants of the march to write the names of loved ones who died of AIDS on placards. The placards were then taped to the San Francisco Federal Building at the end of the march.

In 1987 the NAMES Project Foundation was formally organized with Cleve Jones making the first panel in memory of his friend Manlin Feldman. Jones created the AIDS Memorial Quilt as a memorial for those who died of AIDS, and to help people understand the devastating impact of the disease.

On October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, DC during the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This display had 1,902 panels and the name of each person represented on the Quilt was read out loud. A ceremonial reading of the names of people represented in the Quilt is now a tradition at nearly every Quilt display.

Today, the Quilt is comprised of 50,000 panels representing over 110,000 people, weighing 54 tons – it is considered the largest living piece of artwork in the world. Each panel represents at least one person who has passed away from AIDS and eight panels stitched together form a block. 

For more information about the AIDS Memorial Quilt, visit the National AIDS Memorial website.

Fun facts

  • Panels from Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco – the cities in the United States most affected by AIDS sent panels to a workshop in San Francisco where volunteers sewed them together. The last time the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed, October 1996, the Quilt covered the entire National Mall in Washington, DC with over 1.2 million in attendance.  
  • The Quilt has traveled to eight different countries and broadcast from six continents.  
  • More than 20 countries have launched similar commemorative projects based on the Quilt.  
  • Cleve Jones, Mike Smith, and the NAMES Project Foundation were nominated for the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of the Quilt’s global impact. 
  • Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt Won – the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1989. 
  • 2013, Call My Name, a special quilt program was created to increase awareness to HIV/AIDS in the Black community and the public health crisis that still exists today. 
  • Permanently housed in San Francisco in the National AIDS Memorial – contains archival collection of 200,000 objects, documents, cards, and letters chronicling the lives remembered