The AOL display of 48 individual memorial panels, complete with biographical information about each person who is memorialized, is a preliminary step toward putting the entire quilt online, said Names Project spokesman Scott Williams.
The online display is a way to bring the quilt to people who might not see it otherwise. "Many people can't go to see the quilt because of distance," said Williams. "Others won't because of the strong stigma attached to AIDS in some parts of the country. But on the Internet they can see it in the privacy of their homes."
In the nearly 11 years since it was conceived by San Francisco AIDS activist Cleve Jones, the AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown to 40,000 six-by-three-foot panels, which together include the names of 70,000 people who have died of AIDS.
And the quilt continues to grow, with some 50 panels added each week. In fact, the quilt may never again be displayed in its entirety. "There are few places in urban America large enough to display the quilt," explained Williams. "We could display it out in the desert, but that would lack the social and political significance of the Capitol Mall, for example."
While the quilt has outgrown America's urban spaces, it is expanding quickly in cyberspace. On December 1 1995, the Names Project launched the AIDS Memorial Quilt Website, which displays 96 panels in a section called the Gallery.
To coincide with the quilt's most recent display on the Capitol Mall in October, the Names Project launched an interactive site on AOL featuring interactive forums, a merchandising area, and information about the quilt, including instructions on how to create a panel. The existing AOL site also features images of several quilt panels.
The new AOL display, which will be part of the existing AOL site, features fewer panels than the Names Project Web site, at least for now. Still, it provides more details, such as the biographical information about each person memorialized. Video and audio may be added in the future.
The Names Project uses a similar multimedia presentation in its Archive Project, which will catalog the entire quilt on a CD-ROM, possibly within the coming year.
Another tool to be included on the Web site, the AOL site, and the CD-ROM is a database of names. The database will enable users to locate individual panels on the actual quilt, and on the digital displays.
Although all these new forums will bring the quilt to many who have never seen it or even heard about it, Names Project spokesman Greg Lugliani maintains that nothing can replace the experience of seeing the quilt in person. "People say that the quilt creates a Gothic cathedral wherever it goes," he said. "I don't know if technology can achieve that."