Major Grant Awarded to Proposed AIDS Museum

Almost six months after announcing non-profit incorporation and a slew of investors, Steve Stagon can now say he’ll be getting a building to house his anticipated World AIDS Museum and Educational Center.

This new accomplishment is a result of the Community Foundation of Broward’s $94,000 grant to the museum, specifically to get a home. It’s called a “capacity building grant” and Stagon is excited to use it.

“This allows us to open the first World AIDS Museum ever in the world,” Stagon told SFGN. “We have a very good idea. This is a necessary endeavor.”

In January, SFGN reported that Stagon had announced major community support for the “endeavor” and was plowing ahead with it.

At the celebratory event (hosted by Jimmy Cunningham and Tom Stravecky with food by Jason King of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, wine by Michael Iacino, and flowers by Bobby Kyser of Panache) Stagon, who was diagnosed with HIV 23 years ago, displayed his significant progress at turning his longtime dream for an AIDS museum into a reality for Wilton Manors.  Having managed the complex challenges of 501c3 incorporation, and having enlisted the support, partnership and funding of community leaders, Stagon led an enthusiastic crowd through a sampling of proposed displays, and through an outline of the structure and purpose of the museum.

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis, one of the advisors on giving out the hefty grant, said the money is important for preserving the history of HIV/AIDS.

“It is a bold undertaking,” he said, “but the challenge is well-placed in the hands of the Museum’s board.”

Stagon told SFGN that this is phase one of the endeavor to open the museum on Wilton Drive, and hopes to do so by the end of 2013. While he has a spot in mind for the museum, Stagon didn’t want to share where it is exactly because it’s still being negotiated.

However, while he had hoped to create five galleries for the museum, the January plans he had set forward won’t be coming to full fruition.

“We’re not going to be able to do all five galleries,” Stagon told SFGN. “We can probably do one of them. This will be the first phase of what will be a first-class museum.”

Those five initially proposed galleries (from SFGN’s January coverage):

The first gallery would contain a chronological timeline of events that would tell the story of AIDS in a way that would make the visitor relive the impact of the disease or experience it deeply for the first time. One of the sample displays unveiled at the announcement was a collection of magazine covers about HIV/AIDS. This gallery would emphasize the importance of telling the history of AIDS honestly rather than through the discolored words of anti-gay religious leaders such as Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell.

The second gallery would accomplish the task of turning the numbers into names with the inclusion of the stories of celebrities including Rock Hudson, Liberace, Freddie Mercury and allies Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana. New locally made panels for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt would be displayed at the museum before being added to the quilt, and recorded personal vocal histories might be an interactive aspect of this gallery.

The third gallery would provide the visitor with medical information about the disease.

The fourth gallery would enlighten the visitor about the stigma, criminalization and negative stereotypes of the disease.  A sample exhibit for this gallery on display at the announcement was a sculpture by Ed Sparan titled 10 Year Ribbon composed entirely of pill bottles representing ten years of HIV medications taken daily.

The fifth gallery would provide information about ways to bring people living with HIV/AIDS back into society and restore them to productive and satisfying lives.

All of these galleries will materialize with time, Stagon said. Adding optimism to the cause is the grant he got. Having applied for just a $20,000 grant, it was quite a surprise to get almost five times that amount.

“They said that $20,000 wasn’t going to do anything and that they wanted to get us financially secured – to get us up and running,” Stagon told SFGN.

Stagon started the museum in Sept. 2011, a brainchild of Pozitive Attitudes, a support group for HIV-positive people.

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