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Castro to get AIDS quilt display

by Matthew S. Bajko
Tuesday Jan 31, 2012

An emotionally wrenching show timed to Valentine's Day is headed to the city's Castro district as community leaders plan to display the largest collection of AIDS quilt panels San Francisco has seen in decades.

Castro merchants and AIDS advocates are in talks with the family that owns the Market and Noe Center near the heart of the LGBT neighborhood to put on public view 40 sections of the hand-stitched memorial to loved ones lost to the AIDS epidemic.

Roughly 320 individual panels from the AIDS quilt that are stored locally would be showcased at the vacant shopping center. Organizers said it would be the largest collection of quilts to be shown in the city since the Names Project Foundation, the nonprofit that cares for the panels, closed its Castro workshop on Market Street in 1999 and relocated the next year to Atlanta.

Several factors came together in recent months to make the displaying of the quilt possible, said Mike Smith, a cofounder of the Names Project Foundation who stepped down from the board of directors last November after a six-year term.

"It was a combination of people wanted to do it, the space is available, and Valentine's week is a nice time to think about loved ones," said Smith, executive director of the AIDS Emergency Fund.

Smith has been working with Petyr Kane, the owner of Castro clothing stores Citizen and Body, and officials with Under One Roof, the Castro store that donates profits to local HIV/AIDS groups, on the display. Details are still being finalized, but plans call for showing the quilt panels for up to eight days beginning Sunday, February 12.

The show would be free and open to the public, though donations for local AIDS organizations would be suggested.

"This isn't being set up as a fundraiser," said Smith.

The Names Project Foundation dates its history back to 1985 when Cleve Jones had participants in that year's annual candlelight march honoring the deaths of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone write down the names of people lost to AIDS onto placards that were then attached to the federal building near City Hall.

Two years later Jones, Smith, and several other people opened the Castro storefront and the AIDS quilt was officially born. According to the foundation's website, the AIDS Memorial Quilt now weighs in at 54 tons and includes more than 47,000 panels dedicated to more than 90,000 individuals.

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