Here in the heart of tech and location of the world’s newest millionaires, on the eve of San Francisco’s 2012 celebration of gay Pride, the AIDS Memorial Quilt Kickstarter campaign has just failed to raise enough money for the nonprofit to create a simple app.
Anne Balsamo and the Public Interactives Research Team at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) are collaborating with the Names Project Foundation to try and make the AIDS Memorial Quilt virtual, searchable and trackable.
You see, the Quilt has become so large that it simply can’t be viewed in one day – it takes four days to see the whole thing. What’s more, family members and friends can’t search for their departed loved one in order to find their loved one’s panel and view it in person.
The size of the physical Quilt measures more than 1.3 million square feet. If laid out in its entirety, it would cover more than 29 acres of land.
The tragedy just doesn’t scale.
When the quilt was little more than an idea in 1985, it was because a group of strangers in San Francisco were saddened and troubled that more than 1,000 residents had died and might be forgotten; by 1987 that number had nearly doubled and the Names project – the Quilt – had begun.
On its 25th anniversary this year, 48,000 individual 3-by-6-foot memorial panels, most commemorating the life of someone who has died of AIDS, have been sewn together by friends, lovers and family members. The Quilt now tours the US in parts; in July it will be coming together in Washington D.C. and will be laid out in its entirety on the Mall of Washington for the first time since 1996.
It will take four days (July 21-25) to display all 48,000 panels.
Balsamo led the AIDS Quilt App Kickstarter charge. With a full display of the Quilt planned by the Smithsonian this summer, she wants to make it into a mobile app that will allow people everywhere to view the quilt, allow visitors to find panels, add information in a guest book for each panel and allow those involved with the quilt to always know where their panel rests.
It’s really a surprise that the Bay Area born Quilt – a itself symbol of determination and disruption – hasn’t gone digital yet, as it would take a visitor more than 33 days to view every panel, spending only 1 minute at each panel. But memorializing over 91,000 people is not a small effort.
Turning the world’s largest memorial into an app seems like an endeavor we’d see taken on by plucky souls lucky enough to be selected for an elite TED Talk, where they’d wow the rich and famous among the tech elite into marshaling resources to make a grassroots effort into something technologically miraculous.
Instead, the AIDS Quilt, a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic, asked for minimal donations on Kickstarter so they can make a simple app to bring a searchable experience of activism, disruption, history, family and determination to the wider world.
Though 130 individual backers made pledges of between $25 and $500 dollars, on June 9 the Kickstarter campaign was deemed “unsuccessfully funded,” and the app remains in limbo.
With all the money and tech resources that Silicon Valley has to offer, you’d think that innovating this important piece of San Francisco history and our upstart activism would have been a no-brainer.
So just how did Silicon Valley fail to fund one of the cornerstones of its rich and powerful outsider history – LGBT culture, the Memorial Quilt – so disgracefully?
I certainly see enough newly rich locals having fits of First World guilt (or looking for tax relief?) and promoting the elevation of whatever pet cause is popular amongst the Silicon Valley socialites this season. But perhaps ‘popular’ is qualified by ‘acceptable for dinner chat with mom’ or whatever won’t frighten the unpaid interns from Orange County, or whatever a brogrammer deems “not gay.”
So what are techies so afraid of when it comes to basic support for local causes that aren’t the conservative version of “family friendly”? (For I think that’s a bit of what’s been going on here.)
To me, as a San Francisco native and lifelong tech denizen, the lack of innovation and fundraising motion on things like the AIDS Quilt are proof of how estranged tech culture truly is from the place it lives and breathes in.
Compared to what the Bay Area’s new millionaires and billionaires are pulling in, $30,000 to complete the AIDS Quilt Touch App in time for the Quilt’s 25 year anniversary celebration in July seems modest.
In hope, the Names Project has now put up an Indiegogo page for donations to try again and get the app funded while there’s still time.