LAUNCHING JUNE PRIDE MONTH WITH AIDS GARDEN CHICAGO GROUNDBREAKING

The Honorable Mayor Lori LightfootAlderman Tom Tunney,  Congressman Mike Quigley, Congresswoman Jan SchakowskyState Senator Sara FeigenholtzState Representatives Greg Harris and Margaret Croke, Chicago Parks Foundation Executive Director Willa Lang, and Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Mike Kelly, along with members of the LGBTQ community, officially and joyfully ‘broke the ground’ on the long-awaited AIDS Garden Chicago Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

 

 Located at Lake Shore Drive and Belmont Avenue, AIDS Garden Chicago is the city’s first public park to memorialize the early days of Chicago’s HIV epidemic, and honors those who continue to fight against the disease today.

Taking place in front of the Garden’s anchor piece, the stunning 30-foot Keith Haring sculpture, ‘Self-Portrait,’ official remarks were followed by a powerful spoken word performance by Chicago-bred Black Queer playwright, poet and activist Osiris Khepera.

 

“It brings me great joy to officially break ground on AIDS Garden Chicago in a location that means so much to our LGBTQ+ communities,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “As we memorialize those we’ve lost to the HIV epidemic and honor those who continue to fight this disease, it has never been more important to immortalize Belmont Rocks’ legacy as a safe space where people could gather, support one another and be their full selves. I look forward to seeing this garden come to life by the end of this year and become our city’s newest symbol of liberation, individuality and stewardship.”

Alderman Tom Tunney said, “I thank everyone who attended the AIDS Garden Chicago groundbreaking event; in the face of the AIDS epidemic, countless people took action and worked to provide health care, housing, food or other services to meet basic needs of our friends and neighbors who became infected with HIV/AIDS. Many of these same people worked tirelessly to see this garden, the city’s first public park to memorialize the early days of Chicago’s HIV epidemic, come to fruition.  AIDS Garden Chicago is a living garden and an educational tool that symbolizes the resiliency of the LGBTQ community. AIDS Garden Chicago is intended to be a safe space for all: those who are queer or straight, those with any gender identity, those from any race or ethnicity. The AIDS epidemic impacted people of all backgrounds from all communities and walks of life and we recognize the human toll for all. Thank you to all who have helped make AIDS Garden Chicago possible.”

Added Chicago Parks Foundation Executive Director Willa Lang, “Especially at this time, during the pandemic, when so many marginalized communities were impacted disproportionately, we remember, recognize and honor those amazing joyful lives lived and lost during the AIDS epidemic at this magnificent site along the lake front. But what is most important to remember is that there are those who still live with HIV/AIDS today, individuals not yet welcome, not well-served and still struggling to be seen. Our work is not yet done. AIDS Garden Chicago is a garden for all. A safe place to tell the stories, reflect and celebrate all lives and our differences as well. The Belmont Rocks will live on in this lush wandering garden of beauty, joy and shared love. The Chicago Parks Foundation is honored to lead this project to its completion and look forward to bringing our communities together again when we cut the ribbon on AIDS Garden Chicago this fall.”

Other VIPS in attendance at the groundbreaking included: Chicago Park District Manager of Art Initiatives Mike Dimitroff, Chicago Parks Foundation Board Member Michael Erwin, OUTspoken co-founder David Fink, Chicago Park District Director of Planning and Development Heather Gleason, business woman and activist Christie Hefner, former Alderman Tunney representative Chris Jessup, community gardener Nancy Juda, Design Workshop garden designer Manisha Kaul, Legacy Project Co-Founder Owen Keehnen, former State Senator William Marovitz, Alphawood Foundation Executive Director Jim McDonough, Executive Director of The Arts Club of Chicago Janine Mileaf, community supporter Vicki Noe, current Alderman Tunney Director of Business Affairs and Special Events Jessica Papp, President and CEO of AIDS Foundation Chicago John Peller, former State Representative Yoni Pizer, Rosenthal Fine Art’s Dennis Rosenthal and Susan Pool, Legacy Project Co-Founder and Executive Director Victor Salvo, and Lincoln Park Conservancy Executive Director Doug Widener.

The 2.5 acre AIDS Garden Chicago is situated on Lake Michigan at the original location of the historic Belmont Rocks, a beloved space where the local gay community gathered between the 1960s and 1990s.  The Garden’s first phase was completed in late 2019 with the installation of its anchor piece, the stunning 30-foot Keith Haring sculpture, ‘Self-Portrait.’ The Garden will include unique areas designed for reflection, education, honor, and pride. Visitors will be guided through a variety of collective garden spaces all providing a sensory nature experience, most notably a Gingko Reflection Grove. The Foundation will soon launch the AIDS Garden Story Archive, a digital quilt of personal shared experiences to be posted on the AIDS Garden Chicago website. AIDS Garden Chicago, a “park with purpose,’ expects to open in Fall 2021.

The Chicago Parks Foundation thanks current AIDS Garden Chicago partners: Alderman Tom Tunney, Alphawood Foundation, TAWANI Foundation, Walgreens, Beaumier Donor Advised Family Fund, the Elizabeth Morse Trust and the Chicago Park District in addition to tireless advocacy by the State of Illinois, Senator Sara Feigenholtz, Leader Greg Harris, Representative Mike Quigley, State Rep Margaret Croke and former State Representative Yoni Pizer. Further thanks to: AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Design Workshop, Friends of the Parks, Howard Brown Health, Keith Haring Foundation, Legacy Project, Mariano’s, The Moth and Rosenthal Fine Art, Inc.

The Chicago Parks Foundation is leading the Garden’s fundraising and community conversations.  Established in 2013 as the nonprofit partner of Chicago’s parks, the Chicago Parks Foundation operates in a public-private partnership with the Chicago Park District to provide fiscal partnership to foundations, organizations, and individuals who wish to support their parks.  For more information, visit Chicago Parks Foundation.

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