AIDS Quilt to blanket Philly for World AIDS Day

Photo by Scott Drake, courtesy of AIDS Fund

AIDS Fund Philadelphia is commemorating World AIDS Day by putting 20 blocks of The AIDS Memorial Quilt on view Dec. 1, making it the largest display of the quilt in the region.

World AIDS Day started in 1988 and was the first-ever global health day. Held on Dec. 1 each year, World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and commemorate those we’ve lost.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt began in San Francisco in 1987, created by The NAMES Project with a single 3-foot by 6-foot panel. It has since grown into a tapestry that includes more than 49,000 panels from every state in the country, created by friends, lovers and family members of people who succumbed to the virus. In 2001, the quilt’s panels were moved from San Francisco to Atlanta, Georgia.

Thousands of panels of The Quilt are displayed annually throughout the United States and world, serving as both a memorial and a storyteller, visually documenting the evolution of one of the nation’s struggles with the disease.

On Nov. 20, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Lewis, and Rep. Barbara Lee, joined other Congressional leaders, along with executives from the National AIDS Memorial, The NAMES Project Foundation, Library of Congress and HIV/AIDS organizations to announce that The AIDS Memorial Quilt is moving from Atlanta back to the San Francisco Bay Area in early 2020 to its new permanent home at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

AIDS Fund provides emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV in the Greater Philadelphia region, while providing education and increasing public awareness of HIV/AIDS issues.

Robb Reichard, AIDS Fund’s executive director, said that Philadelphia hosts several viewings of the quilt every year, but this display on World AIDS Day will be the biggest of them all. A local affiliate for the NAMES Project, AIDS Fund offers quilt displays at various locations throughout the year. Typically, Reichard said, the most substantial show of the quilt is on the day of the AIDS Walk, but it rained this year, making this year’s World AIDS Day, home for the largest display of the year. 

“We usually have quilt displays throughout the region, but usually they are one block at various locations. This will be at least 20 blocks,” said Reichard.

He added that folks from the community requested panels that are part of Philadelphia’s history, and AIDS Fund was able to secure those to show alongside the 20-block display.

Besides viewing, attendees will be able to see a new panel for the quilt being created live at the event, and anyone who wishes to can create their addition and contribution to the quilt.

“We will have blocks of fabric that people will be able to memorialize a loved one with,” Reichard said. “They can write a name or a massage or whatever. Then we will take those blocks of fabric and stitch them together to make the quilt panel.”

Reichard said he hopes this display of the quilt will bring together different generations of people who have been affected by the AIDS crisis. People who lived through the AIDS epidemic and the ’90s have witnessed the progress made in treatment over the years but may not have been able to see the quilt for a long time, he said.

“This is a good opportunity for them to see the quilt again and remember those we have lost.”

To bring in younger audiences, Reichard said, “We’re doing outreach to local colleges, particularly colleges that may have an art or textile focus that may have a specific interest in the design, because the quilt is the largest community art project in the world. So it’s not only a memorial, but it’s very much a piece of art that uses fabric for a social justice issue. It appeals to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.”

Along with the quilt display, on the day of the event, A Reading of Names will take place to commemorate those who were lost in the fight against AIDS. Also, regional AIDS service providers will be on hand with information, including Prevention Point Philadelphia, Mazzoni Center and Bebashi.

For those interested in supporting AIDS Fund all year long, the organization hosts events and fundraisers this month and throughout the year.

“We have our monthly Gay Bingo, Saturday, Dec. 24. We are also in the midst of our annual holiday toy drive for HIV-infected children,” Reichard said. “That runs until Dec. 24. Of course, in the spring, we’ll have our Black Tie Gay Bingo on Mar. 23. We always have stuff going on.”

AIDS Fund commemorates World AIDS Day with a display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 1 at Teller Auditorium at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N Broad St.  

For more information, visit or