Pauley Pavilion at UCLA was transformed into a cathedral of love and remembrance Friday night as the sprawling Names Project AIDS Quilt celebrating the lives of Americans killed in the epidemic was unfurled at a somber and uplifting ceremony.
The event, delayed when a power blackout hit the pavilion Thursday night, marked the start of a 20-city tour that organizers hope will raise $2 million for local AIDS services organizations. More importantly, the quilt's sponsors aim to unleash a wave of compassion for those suffering from the fatal syndrome, which has claimed more than 32,000 lives in this country.
The quilt is made up of 3,488 colorful three-by-six-foot fabric panels created by the victims' friends, lovers and relatives. At the ceremony, the names of the dead were intoned by such celebrity readers as actor Richard Dreyfuss and Assemblywoman Maxine Waters as volunteers dressed in white performed an eerily beautiful ballet, unfolding quilt sections bearing 32 panels.
By the time they had finished, the quilt covered the arena's floor, and other panels were hung from the bleachers and from the rafters. Many of the 4,000 in attendance were overcome by the spectacle and wept; others clung to one another for support.
An emotional high point came when a young man stepped up to the microphone and announced: "I am a person with AIDS, and I, like you have a name, Michael Katz. Someday, I may have my place of honor on this quilt sewn so sweetly by those left behind. If I do, remember my name."
Another moving moment came when families of AIDS victims in Los Angeles dedicated panels to their loved ones by laying them in the center of the quilt. "It was like watching them lay bodies in the ground," said one viewer.
Like Vietnam Memorial
Like the Vietnam Memorial to which it has been compared, the quilt evoked a wide range of emotions among those in attendance. For Connie Searcy of Redondo Beach, it was a chance to mourn her son, Steve Holzman, who died at the age of 26 last year. For others, the quilt provided a color-splashed respite to an epidemic as "gray, monotonous and relentless" as the outbreak described by Albert Camus in his novel, "The Plague."
The quilt had a difficult time finding a home in Los Angeles. Roberta Bennett, treasurer of the local host committee, said operators of several public spaces turned down requests to rent space. In the end, it was perhaps fitting that the quilt came to UCLA, where in 1981 Dr. Michael Gottlieb wrote the first report on what later became known as AIDS for a Centers for Disease Control publication.
In that article, Gottlieb cited five mysterious cases of a previously rare pneumonia known as \o7 pneumocystis carinii\f7 among gay men. By April 4 of this year, 58,270 cases of AIDS had been diagnosed in the United States, and new cases were being logged at the rate of 586 a week.
The quilt will be on display today and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.