As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded last spring and summer, the board of directors and staff of the World AIDS Museum and Education Center (WAM) made the decision to move from a Wilton Manors mixed-use apartment community to a larger, more prominent location in Fort Lauderdale.
Now, months later and just in time for the 40th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the museum reopened this week at ArtServe, the Sunrise Boulevard arts incubator that also serves as home to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives.
The ArtServe facility provides WAM with the use of a 1,700 square-foot space for both permanent and visiting exhibits. The museum also will occupy two offices and the gallery and auditorium spaces will be available to WAM educational and community programming.
“When the board discussed relocating, we wanted a space that would increase exposure and solidify our reputation as a legitimate museum,” said Chair William Green in a statement. “ArtServe offers an ideal location on a major thoroughfare, opportunities for alignment on programming and exhibits, and the chance to explore new ways to present our exhibits.”
According to Andrew Ruffner, director of education and programs, the move was “a brilliant marriage” that will elevate the museum and allow for collaboration with other regional arts and cultural organizations.
He’s been busy during the transition, redesigning and updating the museum’s signature exhibit, “The Chronology of AIDS.” The exhibit will better fit the ArtServe space and also reflect recent scientific and medical advances since the exhibit was originally installed.
WAM reopened earlier this week with a special exhibit, “The Colors of HIV,” a 17-work series by local artist Toby Gotesman Schneier. The paintings serve as allegories for the personal and historic moments associated with the people and their families who live with the disease.
From “The Other Ryan White” and “In His Prime” to “Results” and “Positive,” the works encompass the entire human experience of HIV/AIDS.
"HIV/AIDS is a complicated and multi-faceted focus of attention with a rich tapestry and history,” explained Schneier. “I am extraordinarily honored and humbled to be a vehicle for this ongoing story. My hope is that guests find the paintings as moving and relevant as I did when painting them.”
“The Colors of AIDS” will remain on display through Dec. 21.
In addition to reopening, WAM will kick-off World AIDS Day with “Rock the Ribbon” on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 8:30 a.m. Hosted by The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale, the new event will feature original Styx rock band member Chuck Panozzo and “The Voice” contestant Laura Vivas. The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus will also perform in the socially distanced, outdoor event.
WAM Executive Director Requel Lopes said, “World AIDS Day remains as relevant today as it’s always been, reminding people and governments that HIV has not gone away. There is still a critical need for increased funding for the AIDS response, to increase awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives, to end stigma and discrimination and to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.”
The World AIDS Museum and Education Center, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, is open for individual visitors or groups less than 10, Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, go to WorldAIDSMuseum.org or call 954-390-0550, ext. 1.