Hanging from a wall of the World AIDS Museum is a large red, glittery ribbon, the symbol of the HIV/AIDS movement to rid the world of a disease that has taken the lives of more than 21 million people worldwide.
But take a step closer, and on closer inspection, one can see it’s a ribbon made up of 417 medication bottles — 10 years worth of viramune and epzicom, HIV medication worth $333,600.
Ed Sparan, a board member of the museum, made the piece two years ago as a toast to surviving 10 years of the disease. An artistic, theatrical type, he kept all his medication bottles and finally decided to turn it into a work of art.
Sparan’s piece hangs inside the museum, tucked within Wilton Station in Wilton Manors, along with memorabilia, magazine covers, and a detailed history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic — not just within the LGBT community, but men, women and children of all races and sexual identity.
“We don’t want to make it a gay museum; it’s the World AIDS Museum,” Sparan said.
The museum got its start two years ago by Steve Stagon, a mediator of HIV support group, Pozitive Attitudes. The concept of a museum started with smaller exhibits, until a generous donation allowed the project to become a full-fledged museum in Wilton Station. While it had a soft opening in May, with tours three days a week, it will officially open on December 2 with a gala at the Broward Center.
“I’m so happy [the community] has embraced it so well,” Sparan said.
Inside the museum is a detailed history of AIDS, from the early 1900s in Africa to its movement to the U.S. There are even some deaths from before the ‘80s that were later determined to be AIDS, including the death of a teenager in St. Louis in 1969. Throughout the history, documents tell visitors stories of AIDS becoming more than just a “gay disease.”
Important moments documented included “Dynasty” soap actor Rock Hudson, whose kiss with co-star Linda Evans rocked the boat since people still believed you could contract the disease from touching. Magic Johnson is also featured, and he attended the museum’s dedication in November 2013, the 22nd anniversary to the day when he announced he was HIV positive. The basketball player kindly left behind a signed jersey.
One wall is covered with memorabilia from activists, including shirts, photographs of marches, and a piece of KKK graffiti reading “AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD.” On another wall, media coverage of the AIDS epidemic is memorialized with countless magazine covers. The exhibits have left people in awe with what they’ve learned, and for others, it’s driven them to tears.
An ongoing project that the museum has undertaken is creating a more modern version of the AIDS quilt, a sort of digital tapestry. Those who have HIV/AIDS or have been impacted by it are welcome to come into the museum for a taping of them talking about their experience, to then be compiled into a large online piece.
“It’s an emotional experience, a historical experience,” Sparan says of walking through the museum.
LGBT activists have made appointments to explore the museum, but also local school groups and non-LGBT groups who are yearning to learn more about the AIDS epidemic, and most importantly how profoundly it has impacted the local community: Miami-Dade and Broward counties hold the number one and two spots, respectively, in new HIV/AIDS infections nationally.
“The face of AIDS is no longer a gay man,” Sparan said.
The World AIDS Museum is located at 1201 NE 26th St., Suite 111 in Wilton Manors. To learn more or to participate in the digital tapestry project, visit WorldAIDSMuseum.com