The AIDS Memorial Quilt is returning home to S.F. next year

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is returning home to San Francisco, where it began more than three decades ago, officials said.

The Quilt is the largest ongoing community folk art project in the world, commemorating the lives of more than 105,000 people who died of AIDS or related illnesses.

The project started 32 years ago, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, when a group of strangers gathered at a San Francisco storefront to make the first panels and to remember the names and lives of their loved ones they feared history would forget.

It is now a colorful patchwork of more than 50,000 colorful and hand-crafted 3-by-6 panels that have been sewn together by friends, lovers and family members

Thousands of quilt panels are displayed each year around the U.S. and the world to raise awareness of the struggle to fight AIDS. It is expected to arrive back in San Francisco early next year and be housed at the National AIDS Memorial in Golden Gate Park.

"The National AIDS Memorial and The Quilt, through their very existence, have had a tremendous impact in telling the story of the AIDS crisis and the AIDS movement, a story of social justice," said John Cunningham, executive director of the National AIDS Memorial, in a statement.

Since 1987, The NAMES Project Foundation, which has been headquartered in Atlanta since 2001, has cared for The Quilt and its associated archives.   

 “This is the culmination of decades of work that achieves a vision long held by The NAMES Project leadership who, armed with an unwavering commitment to The Quilt, were determined to see that the AIDS Memorial Quilt would stand the test of time,” said Julie Rhoad, president and CEO of The NAMES Project Foundation.

The Quilt also has an archival collection of more than 200,000 items, including biographical records, correspondence, photographs, tributes, epitaphs, news clippings and artifacts submitted by panel makers about their loved ones. The collection has been gifted to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  and will one day be available to researchers and the public. 

The archive also documents the creation, marketing and exhibition of The Quilt over the past 32 years. Digital assets include images of all the Quilt blocks and detailed information about the creators of quilt panels.  

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said The Quilt and its archive “help to humanize and demonstrate the scale of the AIDS pandemic in a powerful way while honoring the lives lost.”