AIDS Garden Chicago supporters and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) commemorated the 34th annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 at the Belmont Yacht Club with a sneak preview of the garden.
The 2.5-acre AIDS Garden Chicago is located adjacent to the Belmont Yacht Club and is set to open in next spring. This site was previously occupied by the now-defunct historic LGBTQ gathering spot Belmont Rocks.
According to a press release announcing this event, AIDS Garden Chicago's mission is to "remember the more than 35 million people who have died of HIV/AIDS since 1986, acknowledge those who continue to live with the virus, celebrate what a community can achieve when it unites and acts up against a common threat, highlight the fact that the battle against the disease continues and commit to Getting to Zero new HIV infections."
Two years ago, a 30-foot Keith Haring sculpture, "Self Portrait," was unveiled as the garden's anchor piece. The site will also have areas dedicated to reflection (Ginko Reflection Grove), education, honor and pride. Additionally, the Chicago Parks Foundation has recently launched the AIDS Garden Story Archive portal on the organization's website.
Speakers included Chicago Department of Public Health and LGBTQ Health & Outreach Liaison Antonio King; Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney; AIDS Foundation President/CEO John Peller; former IL state Rep. and current AIDS Garden Chicago Board Chair Jonathan "Yoni" Pizer; Chicago Parks Foundation Executive Director Willa Lang; and Design Workshop landscape architect and AIDS Garden designer Manisha Kaul.
Tunney recognized the fellow elected leaders state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, state House Majority Leader Rep. Greg Harris and state Rep. Margaret Crokewho are supporting the garden. He also spoke about the 15 year effort to make this garden a reality.
Peller spoke about the Getting to Zero Illinois initiative to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 and the fact that HIV cases are going down overall, however, more work needs to be done to reduce the number of cases among Black and Latinx Chicagoans. He added that having the federal government "back at the table" with the Biden administration's commitment to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 is helping with these efforts.
King asked for a moment of silence for all the lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began. He spoke about the origins of the Getting to Zero Illinois initiative that started in 2016 and what the CDPH has been doing to especially help the community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Pizer recognized the community partners and how exciting it is to see this garden come to fruition.
During the garden tour. Kaul spoke about how the design layout will help "everyone come together [to] reflect, heal and celebrate" in this soon-to-be dedicated space. She also outlined where each section will be located, including the two entrances to the garden.
Lang outlined some of the features of the garden including the Ginko Grove of Reflection, Unity Garden, Sunrise Garden of Healing, donor wall at the main entrance and Celebration Plaza where Haring's sculpture is located.
AIDS Garden Chicago's community partners include Tunney's office, Chicago Parks Foundation, Chicago Park District, AIDS Foundation Chicago, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Beaumier Donor Advised Family Fund, Center on Halsted, Design Workshop, The Elizabeth Morse Trust, Friends of the Park, Howard Brown Health, Keith Haring Foundation, The Legacy Project, Mariano's, The Moth, Outspoken, Rosenthal Fine Art, Inc., TAWANI Foundation, Walgreens, Rep. Mike Quigley, Feigenholtz, Harris, Croke and Pizer.
See aidsgardenchicago.org/ .