National AIDS Memorial Launches New Web Platform Designed to Share Stories from 40 Years of the AIDS Pandemic – the Lives Lost, the Survivors, the Heroes

  • 2020/40 storytelling initiative will bring to the forefront the many faces of AIDS, sharing stories from 40 years of the pandemic, then to now
  • All 48,000 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of the most recognizable storytelling symbols of the pandemic, can be viewed and searched by interacting with a high-resolution digital image of the entire Quilt

SAN FRANCISCO, July 07, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- To bring greater awareness to the 40 year struggle of AIDS -- a story of heartbreak, remembrance, social justice, activism, resilience, and hope --  the National AIDS Memorial is launching a new web platform at that brings the stories of the lives lost, the survivors, the heroes from then to now into the forefront through its 2020/40 storytelling initiative. Additionally, in partnership with AIDS Quilt Touch, all 48,000 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt can be viewed and searched by interacting with a high-resolution digital image of the entire Quilt.

“The National AIDS Memorial stands as a marker in the national landscape to the tragedy of HIV and AIDS and this new web platform provides an important tool in helping share the stories of the pandemic,” said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial. “As a person living with AIDS, I never thought I would have to live through two pandemics. While very different, there is a thread that pulls through connecting them together, rooted in stigma and discrimination.  The Quilt and storytelling efforts can help us learn from the past to positively change the future.”

2020/40 – 40 Years of Stories from the Pandemic

Through this unique storytelling initiative, the memorial will feature fresh stories every week that show the intimate human experience of AIDS during the 40 years of the pandemic.  The first 21 features have been selected from the memorial’s own storytelling programs and from other public sites.  These stories testify to the long struggle of AIDS with the aim to educate, to remember, to reflect, and to support the work yet to be done.  The stories offer lessons to help communities impacted by HIV/AIDS and all those impacted by on-going social injustice.

—The 2020/40 stories include a moving memory about the panel made in the honor of two lovers lost to AIDS, along with the letters written in support that are part of the Library of Congress Quilt Archive.  

—The story of AIDS activist, Reggie Williams, speaks to the courage of those who raised their voices to call for government responsibility and accountability. 

—Stories from survivors, like Marcy Fraser, a nurse in the AIDS ward at the San Francisco General Hospital during the darkest days of the pandemic express the trauma of the early phase of the pandemic. 

—Stories about Cleve Jones, the founder of the AIDS Quilt, and Jack Porter, a long-time volunteer and historian of the National AIDS Memorial Grove, recount the efforts of survivors who dedicated themselves to activism, education, and commemoration. 

—Stories of hope highlight current AIDS activism by young people like Antwan Matthews, a recipient of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship, who organizes HIV education programs within communities of color. 

“These stories help connect people in a very personal way to the AIDS pandemic, not just from 40 years ago, but today,” said Josh Gamson, a dean and professor at the University of San Francisco and National AIDS Memorial board member who co-chairs its storytelling programs. “The face of AIDS has changed over time and this effort shows how the history and lessons from the AIDS pandemic are important today, as our country faces another pandemic and is once again torn apart by social injustice, bigotry and fear.”

AIDS Memorial Quilt – An Interactive Experience

The National AIDS Memorial has partnered with AIDS Touch Quilt to present an interactive web-based experience that displays a digital image of the entire Quilt.  Zooming into the image, people can view each of the 48,000 individual panels that comprise the Quilt. A simple interface enables people to search for a name or a block.

AIDS Quilt Touch is the culmination of nearly two decades of work by developers Anne Balsamo, Dale McDonald, and Jon Winet. In partnership with the NAMES Project Foundation and with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, they developed the first version of a digital AIDS Quilt by virtually stitching together photographs of the 6000 Quilt blocks into a high-resolution digital image. Working with a distributed team of collaborators, they created an interactive interface that enables people to freely explore the digital image of the entire Quilt.

“What we have learned over the years is that the power of the Quilt is unwavering, even when mediated through digital experiences,” says Balsamo, who, along with MacDonald, work at the University of Texas at Dallas, where they conduct research and develop interactive experiences that serve the cultural good.  “AIDS Quilt Touch is a labor of love and passion built by people committed to social justice and AIDS activism.  In partnership with the National AIDS Memorial, this project can reach a global audience, as a digital platform that augments the important storytelling power of the Quilt.”

It was 40 years ago in April 1980 when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States.  Within a few short years, the disease attacked thousands of gay men, resulting in many deaths that devastated a vibrant community.  A movement started demanding action and medical research support from the US government, and the provision of urgent health resources for those who contracted the virus, which had extended to men, women, and children of all races and backgrounds. 

The global AIDS pandemic continues today with 25 million deaths worldwide; 700,000 in the U.S. alone. While medical treatments provide greater hope for what was once a death sentence, 40 years later, there is still no cure.  The pandemic persists.  More than 1.2 million people in the U.S.—and 38 million worldwide—live with HIV/AIDS. 

“When we created the first Quilt panels it was to share with as many people possible lives tragically being lost to AIDS and to demand action from our government,” said Quilt founder Cleve Jones. “The Quilt has become a powerful educator and symbol for social justice. My hope is that through continued storytelling and making the panels available online, that more people will be drawn to its stories, its history and that we can continue to change hearts and minds.”

The work of the National AIDS Memorial, through the National AIDS Memorial Grove, AIDS Memorial Quilt, and inspiring programs, helps ensure that the story of AIDS and the AIDS movement is known in perpetuity so that never again will our national conscience allow a community to be devastated by an epidemic because of fear, silence, discrimination or stigma.  

The National AIDS Memorial relies solely on funding from personal donors and corporate partners to support its mission and programs. Longstanding partners include Gilead Sciences, which in 2019 provided a $2.4 million grant to support the relocation of the Quilt to San Francisco and Quilt education programs to reach communities of color; the Library of Congress, which is digitizing the archives of the Quilt; Chevron, a major funder of the memorial’s Surviving Voices storytelling programs; Quest Diagnostics, which is a major sponsor of the World AIDS Day events; and Vivent Health, a premier partner of Quilt displays and educational efforts.

To learn more about the National AIDS Memorial, it’s programs and work visit

Media Contact:
Kevin Herglotz

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at

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