One-hundred twenty-eight decorative quilt panels, each representing a life lost to AIDS, were unfolded last night at the opening ceremony of a five-day display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at Ithaca College.
The Ithaca College AIDS Working Group and the NAMES Project Foundation are sponsoring the display. All donations will directly support the 3,000 children of the Malawi Village in Africa who have lost parents to AIDS.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt originated in San Francisco in 1987.
The NAMES Project Foundation started the quilt to increase public awareness of AIDS and to serve as a means of remembrance of lives lost to AIDS, according to Shelley Facente, an Ithaca College senior and member of the Ithaca College AIDS Working Group.
“The quilt has grown so large that it can’t be displayed in one place,” Facente said, noting that the entire quilt consists of over 44,000 panels.
Throughout the course of the exhibit, which will last until Feb. 28, volunteers will continuously read the names of AIDS victims aloud.
“It’s easy to get lost in statistics,” Facente said. “I hope that people see that these are real people with real lives who have loved and been loved. [The quilt] puts a face to the statistics.”
Speakers at the opening ceremony highlighted the quilt’s role in AIDS education.
“As I look at the quilt, I think of our responsibility as individuals to remember,” said Brian McAree, vice president of student affairs at Ithaca College. “However, our responsibility is also to prevent others from getting infected with HIV or from dying of AIDS.”
“This is an educational opportunity,” said Pat Cornell, chair of the Ithaca College AIDS Working Group, adding that facilitated viewings of the quilt will be offered to students of all ages, ranging from elementary school to college.
“The quilt ensures that the millions of people who have died of AIDS will not be forgotten,” Cornell said. Each of the panels “represent a human’s life,” she said. “This life is going to be our teacher tonight.”
Jeff Hopkins, a former Ithaca resident who has been living with AIDS for over 17 years, said that the quilt honors those who have died of AIDS.
“I am here tonight in honor of more than 200 friends and acquaintances who have died over the years,” he said.
Becky Smith, a resident of Binghamton, noted that the quilt reminds her of love.
“[These panels] express so eloquently the love people have,” she said.
Throughout the ceremony, panelists spoke of their first times seeing the quilt.
Rev. Allison Stokes, the Protestant chaplain at Ithaca College, described the first time she viewed the quilt in Cape Town, South Africa as “a remarkable experience.”
“The beauty and the tragedy of this opportunity should impel us to action,” Stokes added.
Facente also commented on the quilt’s power to inspire AIDS activism.
“Just by being here, you’re being an activist,” Facente said. “You’re one part of a really important change that is happening.”
Archived article by Stephanie Hankin