State Rep. Yoni Pizer convened a virtual meeting Dec. 21 to discuss the progress of the AIDS Garden Chicago.
The long-planned site is "destined to become a true Chicago landmark and destination," said Pizer as he introduced the forum. He further emphasized that the garden would be "an enduring symbol of strength, endurance and unity."
The first phase of the project was completed in late-2019 and work had been expected to continue in 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it delays and the garden is now expected to be completed in late 2021, said state Rep. Greg Harris, who participated in the meeting.
"It's going to take a little longer than people thought to get the funding going for this and other economic development projects," he added. Harris said that the money allocated for the project, about $1.4 million, had been re-allocated in 2020. Stakeholders are waiting for the state to release the funds to allow work to be completed.
"The pandemic took over everything, but we're not going to let it hold us back," said Willa Lang, executive director of Chicago Parks Foundation.
Harris noted that the delay would allow for some changes in the scope of the garden. Events of 2020 brought about awareness of applying an equity lens to LGBTQ community projects. Ald. Tom Tunney noted that the garden's North Side location was specific to a historical moment, the programming that would eventually be available there "will be up to the [citywide LGBTQ] community."
That programming might include rotating art installations from diverse contributors or storytelling events, Lang said, adding that the Keith Haring sculpture at the center of the garden "may mean different things to many people but one thing is for sureeveryone has a story to tell."
Pizer's successor in the House, Margaret Croke, was also present for the Dec. 21 call. He iterated her commitment to the project, and added that it would "be in good hands with her."
State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz sponsored the project's state funding when she was still a member of the House. She said, "When Tom Tunney asked for money for this, I didn't flinch," noting that, as time passes, the AIDS crisis of the '80s and '90s would become a dimmer memory.
"There may be a whole generation that does not remember this part of our history," Harris added.
"I don't think the public today has any concept of what we went through," said Ald. James Cappleman. "…This garden helps us remember it."
Tunney said the garden will stand not just as a monument to those who have succumbed to AIDS, but as a reminder of the decade of inaction around the issue from government leaders. That inaction, he added, inspired him to run for elected office in the first place.
Lang and Sarah White, lakefront planning coordinator for Chicago Park District, who gave an overview of the project's design, were asked whether their were any plans to open up what is completed at the site so far, so as to raise awareness and stir interest as it inches toward completion.
"This is definitely something that we are considering," White said, nevertheless emphasizing that public-gathering restrictions during the pandemic would likely prohibit that in the immediate future. Lang said that signage could note the project was in-progress, so the public would not think "we are satisfied with it as it was."
Lang also emphasized that a diverse income stream will be needed to make sure the gardens could both be maintained and evolve. "We know that the future of this project lives with the community," she added.