In the early 1990s, the AIDS epidemic was in full swing in Washington. Hundreds of people had been diagnosed and many others were dying. In 1992 alone, about a decade after the first cases of AIDS were reported in King County, 119 people in the county received new diagnoses of HIV while 356 people died of AIDS, according to a Seattle Times report.
Capitol Hill, long considered a hub for the LGBTQ community, became a safe place for people impacted by HIV and AIDS to access a variety of services and find a space to die with dignity, according to Jason Plourde, former director of the LGBTQ arts organization Three Dollar Bill Cinema.
Now, decades later, that same neighborhood will be getting a large, multi-faceted memorial featuring the stories of the epidemic and the community’s response to it. Set to be completed in 2020, the AIDS Memorial Pathway, or the AMP, will consist of a series of physical art projects in six different spaces along the south side of Capitol Hill. Visitors can find out more about the crisis as they move through the pathway through a digital component, potentially an app.
“It’s important that we keep this memory alive of what happened and how people [were affected]—not only the tragedy of what people experienced, but also how we persevered and how we got through that and how we fought back against discrimination and stigma,” said Plourde, the memorial’s project manager.
Work on the AMP was kicked off four years ago after Tom Rasmussen, then a Seattle City Councilmember, suggested that a metropolitan hub with such close ties to the AIDS crisis should memorialize this part of its past. Soon, a small committee was formed to try to make that happen.
Plourde said they set off with the goal to not just provide a space for reflection and remembrance, and story-sharing, but also to inspire people to take action against the stigma still associated with HIV and stand up against all forms of discrimination.
In 2017, the committee decided to put the memorial in Capitol Hill along the north side of Cal Anderson Park—named after Washington’s first openly gay state legislator—and around the nearby Capitol Hill light rail station, where a transit-oriented development with four new mixed-income apartment buildings is being constructed.
“We’re calling it a pathway rather than just a memorial because the ground it covers is very different than most memorials,” said Horatio Hung-Yan Law, the project’s lead artist. “Usually people do one piece at one site in one spot. We have the opportunity to spread out our memorial pathway through two different distinct lots.”
Although the committee is still selecting the final lineup of artists, the overall layout has been meticulously planned out. Law explained that the pathway will consist of three sections. The Cal Anderson Park section will be dedicated to remembrance and reflection, while a community room on the ground floor of one of the apartment buildings will be for honoring the community’s courage and resilience. The plaza, in the middle of the apartment buildings, will house the main piece of artwork and is meant to offer a space for the celebration of creativity and life. A fourth section will be a kind of hub for the other parts of the memorial.
Plourde said the committee recently put out requests for artists for this main section.
“It needs to remember the losses that we all felt from the height of the epidemic, but also in some ways be celebratory, because we want to celebrate those lives and we also want to acknowledge that this community in general bonded together and really were creative in how we responded to the epidemic,” he said.
Funding for the memorial is still a work in progress. The project initially received a small grant from the Seattle City Council, and now organizers are working to secure additional government and private funding. Plourde said they estimate the entire project will cost $2.9 million.
Although the memorial will not be finished until next year, there will be some art around this site before then. Between June and November, the committee expects to feature work by a handful of artists in the community through a series of temporary installations. There will be illustrations and paintings on construction fences and even music and dance performances, all serving to highlight queer art and historic AIDS activism.
This temporary art—and the many more permanent pieces that will follow—will help to memorialize the AIDS crisis and how the community persevered in the past. But highlighting that determination and community work will also be important for the future, said Plourde.
“Those are important lessons to remember as we continue to face this crisis of HIV and AIDS, but [also as] we face other crises that come up and other social injustices,” he said. “So I think it’s a broader reminder of not only looking back, but a pathway forward for how to make a better future.”