World AIDS Day 2022 Theme: Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.
In the Fall of 1979, I started college, and was so excited to have Professor John Day for my Color class. He had studied directly under Josef Albers and had paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The first day of class we had a temporary professor but well-known artist, Janet Rogers but we never had the opportunity to study with John Day. We were told he had a type of lung cancer from having oral and anal sex and that it was an epidemic in the gay men’s community. In 1982, he passed on, and was one of the first fifty AIDS patients in NYC. This was the same time that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) coined the term acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and identified the four “risk factors:” male homosexuality, intravenous drug use, Haitian origin, and hemophilia A.
New York City’s West Village had gay men’s clubs on West Street, one after the other, and during the AIDS explosion St. Vincent’s Hospital became the “ground zero” with the first and largest AIDS ward on the East Coast. As the AIDS ward was overpopulated, the gay men’s club patrons were disappearing, and the clubs began closing because of all the deaths.
By the late 1980’s, I was working for EF Hutton on the Equity Trading floor while hundreds of thousands were globally impacted by the AIDS epidemic, but New York City’s LGBT were hit the hardest. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed and protested the government and corporate America. They stormed the NYSE and chained themselves to the trading posts on the floor of the exchange and from the balcony threw fake hundred-dollar bills down to the trading floor protesting the biotech company, Burroughs Wellcome. The company was under fire because the drug did not cost much to manufacture and distribute but the price was over $12,000 a year. Plus, there was a debate over their public service announcement encouraging people to get tested for AIDS because some felt it was a needed message and others argued they were promoting AZT even though there was no mention of the drug.
There are so many layers to the AIDS epidemic, the loss of people and children to this dreaded disease. In the fall of 2004, I began working at Montclair State University and was struck by December 1, Day Without Art. Civilizations are remembered by their art; it is what makes us a civilized society. Throughout the entire campus, the art was covered with black cloths as though it did not exist. I remember when Keith Haring passed from AIDS on February 19, 1990. His death always struck a nerve with me because he was born in 1958, three years before me and died at 31 the year after I turned 29. I had worked in an art gallery through college and was given a Keith Herring print, still hanging in my home.