Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Gay Pride

A special Villager supplement

A rendering of the AIDS memorial planned at Bank St. in Hudson River Park. In the inscription, the second “sail” will be replaced with the word “row,” since this is the literal translation of the Swedish folksong from which it is taken. (After The Villager first reported on the memorial several years ago, a person more familiar with the folksong e-mailed the newspaper and the AIDS Monument Committee the correct lyrics. But the committee’s brochure has not since been updated.)

Village AIDS memorial is in need of financial aid

By Janet Kwon

Although progress has been slow since the project’s inception, plans for an AIDS monument at Bank St. in Hudson River Park are picking up speed as the AIDS Monument Committee acquires welcome financial support.

The proposed memorial would be in the form of a curved bench that hugs the bend of an already existing semicircular granite path at the foot of the former Pier 49. The bench would include along its side an inscription from a Swedish folksong: “I can sail without wind; I can row without oars. But I cannot part from my friend without tears.”

The AIDS Monument Committee has received contributions from private donors as well as large companies, such as Altria Group, in order to realize the vision of the memorial. Also, A.M.C. is currently awaiting the Hudson River Park Trust’s response to an April resolution by the Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee calling on the Trust to dedicate to the AIDS memorial the money it will generate from renting Pier 54 to Heritage of Pride for its Gay Pride dance on June 25. The Waterfront Committee and the Trust have both approved the design of the memorial.

“The community board is supportive and I hope that anybody who is in position to donate capital funds does. It would really be a beautiful addition to the park,” said Arthur Schwartz, chairperson of the C.B. 2 committee.

“I’m sure it would make a major dent in their fundraising — it would really help them,” said Schwartz. Money is the fundamental hurdle that A.M.C. faces, Schwartz said. To cloud things even further, the Trust hasn’t made a decision on whether to heed the community board’s urgings to dedicate the rent money from Pier 54.

“[A.M.C.] is doing their own fundraising. As of right now, we’re taking it under consideration,” said Chris Martin, a Trust spokesperson, referring to C.B. 2’s resolution. Martin added that the Trust hasn’t set a date to make a decision on the resolution.

Although money from the Trust would get A.M.C. a step closer to achieving its goal of $175,000 to fund the monument, the committee still has a ways to go. Thus far, they have raised a bit more than 15 percent, or $26,250, of the goal, according to Lawrence Swehla, head of A.M.C.

“If everybody could give one dollar, we’d be building tomorrow,” said Swehla with a laugh.

In addition to the possible $20,000 Trust donation, Swehla said he’s waiting for responses from elected officials, to whom the A.M.C. sent letters requesting contributions to the memorial.

While the memorial has garnered much support, there are some that don’t agree with its very right to exist.

“I’m totally against it. I think it’s a feel-good memorial to relieve people of guilt…simply put, I’m anti-memorial,” said Melvin Stevens, a member of ACT UP (the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power).

In a letter to the editor published in a December 2003 issue of The Villager, Stevens suggested that the proposed monument needs to “contain a loud and clear political message” in order to be “worthy of the 5,000 lives lost to AIDS in the West Village.”

Instead of the proposed bench with the folksong inscription, Stevens proposes, “a fully realized piece of sculpture that depicts the naked forms of a man and woman bleeding from multiple wounds, splayed and tied to a fence surrounded by their tormenters and murderers.

“AIDS is the kind of thing that people just sort of brush under the rug. That’s why I want a very strong statement,” Stevens said.

Wilbur Weder, a member of C.B. 2, doesn’t agree.

“I don’t think the memorial should have a political statement, really,” Weder said.

“I like the design, I think it’s appropriate,” he said of the monument planned for Hudson River Park. “It’s a place where they can sit and have quiet time and meditate on those people who had to give their lives to this disease…. I think it’s important that we have something that helps people keep in mind that we have this terrible disease that we still have no cure for.”

Swehla said that there is no predicted date for the memorial’s groundbreaking.

“Things seem to be moving along,” he said. “We just need the dollars in the bank.”

For more information on the AIDS memorial and how to contribute to their efforts, visit www.AIDSMonumentCommittee.com.

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