About a dozen people gathered for a meeting March 8 to discuss a planned garden to memorialize the loss, activism and resilience of Chicago's fight against HIV/AIDS.
The planned garden, at the Belmont Rocks in Lake View, is being designed by Clauss Brothers, Inc., landscape architect Natalie Gongaware. She presented her preliminary designs to the group invited to Ann Sather on Belmont by Ald. Tom Tunney.
Attendees included LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS advocates, historians and parks advocates, including representatives from Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health, Friends of the Parks, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Parks Foundation and Windy City Times.
The Chicago Park District has designated space near Belmont Harbor for the garden, and Tunney funded the draft landscape plan. The tentative name of the project is AIDS Memorial Garden, but Howard Brown Health CEO David Munar suggested the name should also pay tribute to the activism. Attendees also said there should be a way to memorialize Chicago's own efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, those lost to the diseaseand to make sure there is an educational component about the current fight.
The Belmont Rocks have a long history of LGBT activity, from colorful graffiti, cruising and sports to the annual Black Pride event held there for decades. Lake View itself has a diverse history, including strong Latino roots. Ideas at the meeting included incorporating all of that history, in addition to perhaps having markers or murals in other parts of the city to note the widespread impact of the disease across the entire region.
The tentative plans include several beautifully landscaped, free and public spaces just south of the parking lot at Belmont and Lake Shore Drive. Areas are marked, including the Garden of Tranquility, the Stand Against Intolerance, Circle of Peace, a Hope and Healing Space, Quiet Reflection and a Community Remembered. There would be some of the painted rocks of the famous old Belmont Rocks landscape, plus many different trees and other plantings.
Perhaps most exciting will be a planned 30-foot sculpture being made available from the Keith Haring Foundation. The final selected design will be announced soon, but its height would be visible from many directions, including Lake Shore Drive. Haring, a pop art and graffiti artist, was among the most prominent Americans who died of AIDS complicationsin 1990, at age 31.
The project is expected to cost about $2 million, which Tunney expects to raise from independent sources, not through the city. Funds will also be raised to maintain the park once it is built. The project could be completed in as quickly as 18 months.
For details, including how to support the project, or to give input, contact 44th Ward Director of Public Safety and Community Affairs Chris Jessup at Chris.Jessup@cityofchicago.org or 773-525-6034 .