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Cleve Jones(June 1991)

Cleve Jones, founder of the NAMES Project, talks to Ian Kember about the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt was first unfolded on 11 October 1987 in Washington DC.

This recording was possibly made at the offices of the NAMES Project on Market Street. Ian recorded the interview for the Gay BC radio programme in Wellington, but also deposited it with the New Zealand AIDS Quilt, allowing it to be heard more widely.

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This summary concerns an interview with Cleve Jones, the founder of the NAMES Project, who elaborated on the significance and influence of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Recorded on June 26, 1991, in San Francisco by Ian Kember, the discussion centers around the quilt as a symbol of awareness, mourning, and activism during the 1980s and 1990s concerning the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The quilt emerged as a unique and potent symbol, successfully communicating the enormity of the AIDS crisis beyond San Francisco, where the impact was profoundly felt. The interview explores how quilts have historically represented social causes, though Jones credits other inspirations, such as the Vietnam War Memorial and Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," for the collaborative aspect of the quilt. The evocation of traditional American values through the quilt is mentioned to have been a strategic choice for its emotional cultural resonance.

When asked about funding, Jones defers, citing the organization's grassroots nature with revenue predominantly sourced from the sales of merchandise. The widespread impact of the NAMES Project across the United States is highlighted, especially in rural communities where the quilt serves as a vital educational tool and fundraising focus.

Jones further comments on the quilt's role in enhancing gay and lesbian visibility while maintaining that the project is not strictly a gay organization but a confluence of individuals united by a common cause. The significance of the quilt lies in its ability to subliminally educate people about the gay and lesbian community through its message of love and solidarity.

A particularly touching aspect of the quilt is its role in uniting friends and families of those who passed away and providing a shared space for mourning and remembrance. Jones reflects on how multiple panels often represent a single individual, providing an avenue for different groups to connect – gay friends might create a panel and later, the deceased's family might contribute another, thereby forging bonds and shared understanding.

While overseas engagement with the quilt is growing, with countries like New Zealand participating actively, Jones remarks on the challenges faced by the NAMES Project, including securing celebrity narrators for related documentaries. Practical elements such as storage and transportation of the quilt are managed well, with losses and vandalism incidents being minimal.

The interview closes with a candid reflection from Jones on the quilt's impact. Pride in the vast reach of the project is tempered by disappointment in the U.S. government's lackluster response to the AIDS crisis. Despite the quilt's powerful expression, it has not spurred the anticipated governmental action.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:26th June 1991
Interviewer:Ian Kember
Audio courtesy of:New Zealand AIDS Memorial Quilt
Location:San Francisco, United States of America
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-003952).