Until now, nearly 40 years into the fight against AIDS, there had been no highly visible public memorial recognizing those we lost and the extraordinarily heroic effort of caregivers and activists who helped change the trajectory of the epidemic. The New York City AIDS Memorial honors more than 100,000 New Yorkers who have died of AIDS. It also acknowledges the contributions of caregivers and activists who mobilized to provide care for the ill, fight discrimination, lobby for medical research, and alter the drug approval process. The Memorial aims to inspire and empower current and future activists, health professionals and people living with HIV in the continuing mission to eradicate the disease through the maintenance of a permanent, architecturally significant memorial as well as through educational and cultural programming.
Founded as a grass-roots advocacy effort in early 2011 by Christopher Tepper and Paul Kelterborn, the New York City AIDS Memorial is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a 16 person Board of Directors, chaired by Keith Fox.
The Memorial sits on a triangular site that was most recently part of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus. Following the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital in 2010, a public park was designed for the site through a community review process. The new park was constructed by the Rudin Management Company as part of the conversion of the hospital into a residential development and given to the City of New York in 2017.
This park was selected as the site for the New York City AIDS Memorial because it sits at a unique crossroads of early AIDS history in New York City. The earliest documented AIDS cases in New York, first reported in 1981, disproportionately affected the gay male population, which had large communities in the surrounding West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. As a result of the number of ill patients filling the beds and hallways of the hospital, in 1984 St. Vincent’s established the first AIDS ward in the city and second in the nation. The Memorial site is less than a block from the LGBT Community Center on 13th Street, where ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and other AIDS advocacy and support groups first organized. It is also within blocks of the first headquarters of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC), and the former office of Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, who pioneered community-based research trials for AIDS drugs. His co-op board’s attempt to evict him led to the nation’s first AIDS anti-discrimination case in 1983. Many consider the Memorial’s location as the symbolic epicenter of the epidemic and the mobilization against it.