"We're a long way from home," agreed Susan Sullivan, an AIDS education coordinator with the county's Red Cross chapter, which sponsors an annual, community-wide AIDS poster contest. "There's a tremendous potential for members of the art community to become more involved."
Several panelists also spoke of finding funding for AIDS projects. Huntington Beach artist Mary-Linn Hughes, who has worked extensively on art projects with AIDS patients, said she learned that AIDS organizations were too overwhelmed with their own financial needs to help, so she went to the arts community.
Hughes, who led photography workshops from 1987 to 1991 at Laguna Shanti, a Laguna Beach AIDS services organization, received funding from the California Arts Council and the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts.
Perhaps the most contentious moment of the day came when Myrella Moses, an artist who curated an AFLS group show at the Irvine Marketplace, asked Desmarais to display the exhibit at the museum's South Coast Plaza annex.
"Say yes," Moses said.
Desmarais agreed to view the exhibit but raised the sometimes divisive issue of quality versus intent.
"Just because we are interested in the topic," he said, "doesn't mean we show every work of art that deals with the topic."
AFLS founder Smith, who collaborated with Moses on a piece in the exhibit, argued that raising public awareness about AIDS--not quality--was paramount.
"This is bigger than art," he charged. "It's life."
The idea that the arts can heighten AIDS awareness and help people overcome denial more profoundly and effectively than any list of statistics caused no dissent.
Said Weismuller of the county's health-care agency: "We need information that touches our hearts so we can have compassion for people that develop this infection."
* "The First Exhibition," with works by about 25 Southern California artists, through June 13 at the Art for Life's Sake Gallery, Irvine Marketplace, Space B163, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday; 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. Admission is free. "Encore," a one-act play, will be staged May 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. at the gallery. Free. (714) 759-3492.