Sunday, July 8, 2012

Volunteering at the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C.

I'm on the train home from Washington, D.C. (yes, there's wifi on the train but it's quite bumpy)! I attended the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, where the AIDS Memorial Quilt is on display. Right before I left for D.C., I found out that the Quilt would be there, and I couldn't wait to see it for myself.

According to the website, the Quilt contains 48,000 panels, which will be showcased all over the city over the month of July. Each panel honors people who have died from HIV/AIDS.

I was determined to help out because of the nature of the project, and because I feel a special connection to anything quilt-related (don't you?)- so my uncle and I got to the Festival around the time that they were supposed to be laying down the panels.

I got my volunteer ID, a mallet, and some stakes, and got to work. It had to be about 97 degrees at that point and I felt it later (hence the somewhat crazy-eyed pictures), but it was all worth it.

After helping other volunteers smooth out the panels and stake them to the ground, I decided that I wanted to read out the names of people on the quilt. There was a microphone set up underneath one of the white tents in the picture above. As you walked down the space on the Mall where the quilt was laid out, you could hear the names being read.

It was a very somber occasion but you couldn't help being uplifted by the creativity that people expressed in the quilt panels. Let me share with you some of my favorites (and I in no way was able to see the whole thing because only a small part of it was actually laid out that day - the whole thing weighs something like 54 tons):

The yellow flowers caught my eye - they were always the first to pop up on campus when I lived at college.

I was amazed by the hand-pieced hexagons on this one, but extremely saddened by the fact that it was dedicated to a baby.

Lots of color.

Many people added extras to their blocks, which really personalized them - like a teddy bear....

...and a license place. I also saw records and CDs.

This was a special exhibit of three quilt panels (just one shown here) at Arena Stage, where we went to see "The Music Man." They specifically honor people in theater and movies... and the sea creature block is Howard Ashman's, who wrote lyrics to some of Disney's most famous songs (including "Under the Sea").

If you get the chance to see some of the panels, I hope you'll take it - it was quite an experience. If you want to find out where to see the Quilt in D.C., and for more information, you can click this link, the official Quilt 2012 website.

And finally, a picture from our amazing spot for viewing 4th of July fireworks on the National Mall:


  1. How breathtaking Jess!!!! You got some excellent photos:) It is a very touching idea all the families of those whom died have undertaken to create these beautiful quilts. I can't imagine losing someone to such a monstrous disease. Just terrible,but so happy to see this effort in DC:)

  2. What an amazing experience for you - thanks for sharing it with us. It saddened me to read of the deaths of babies from HIV/AIDS.


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