Washington Blade - March 22, 2002
The D.C. chapter of the organization that sponsors the AIDS Memorial Quilt
announced on Wednesday, March 20, that it is disbanding rather than agree to a
controversial contract with the national group that members felt would destroy
the local group's independence and threaten its finances.
The 13-year-old Names Project Chapter of the National Capital Area now becomes
the sixth known quilt chapter out of about 30 to disband during the past several
months in a simmering controversy over a reorganization plan adopted by the
Names Project Foundation. The foundation, which moved its headquarters last year
from San Francisco to Atlanta, is the group that has sponsored and organized the
construction and showings of the AIDS Memorial Quilt since 1987.
"The proposed agreement would have required the chapter to surrender its
independence, giving the national foundation a high degree of control of our
operations," said a statement released by the D.C. chapter's 11-member board of
directors. "Given the foundation's poor track record of financial stewardship,
we could not agree to this demand."
In a November 2001 letter to the chapters, the national office said the
reorganization was part of an effort to strengthen the foundation following a
period when it was "teetering on collapse." The letter said the foundation "is
now in a stable enough position to pursue and continue the strategic planning
In late December, the foundation sent each of its chapters a contract, which it
said should be signed and returned by Jan. 26. The deadline was later extended
to Feb. 9.
Julie Rhoad, the foundation's managing director, informed local officials that
those chapters that refused to sign and return the contract by the date
specified would be considered to have severed their ties with the foundation.
"We don't want to see anyone go," Rhoad told Southern Voice in February. "But we
have to have rules, and this contract was drawn up by two elected chapter
representatives. The vast majority of chapters returned their contracts with no
complaints," she told the Atlanta paper, which is published by Window Media,
which also publishes the Blade.
Rhoad told the Blade this week that she is saddened that the D.C. chapter has
chosen to disband but that she respects their decision. Rhoad said while the
D.C. chapter played an important role in the three past showings of the full
quilt on the Mall in D.C., the national foundation has the capability to bring
the quilt back to the nation's capital if the board chooses to do so in the
future. She called the decision to put in new contracts that centralized the
foundation's system of chapters was "strictly a business decision" aimed at
eliminating duplication of functions, including fundraising activities.
Rhoad said that at any given time, at least one third of the 54-ton quilt is on
the road, being displayed in community centers, churches, schools, and at public
events throughout the country. She said the national foundation arranges for
2,000 quilt displays each year.
According to Rhoad, the foundation has an annual budget of about $2 million,
down from nearly $2.6 million several years ago. She said the foundation
eliminated a $400,000 to $500,000 deficit it faced last year and that it is now
operating with a balanced budget.
Mike Bento, a member of the board of the D.C. chapter and a longtime organizer
of quilt-related events, said the D.C. chapter, like other chapters, has
operated as a nonprofit, semi-autonomous entity since 1987. He said the local
group has an annual budget of $500,000 and that it raises all of its funds from
D.C. area contributors. Bento said the chapter operates a combination
office-workshop on 15th Street, NW, which is staffed by one full-time and one
The local chapter has displayed the quilt in Washington to more than 2 million
people and has provided "direct services to 70,000 visitors at our workshop,"
according to the statement released by the board.
Bento said finance statements from the foundation show that its recent
fund-raising events have yielded only about 40 cents on the dollar in net
proceeds, with the remaining 60 percent going to overhead expenses. He said the
D.C. chapter's fund-raising events have yielded close to 90 cents on the dollar
in net proceeds.
If the D.C. chapter became absorbed into the corporate structure of the national
foundation, as Bento said is called for by the foundation's contract, the Names
Project would no longer be eligible to receive contributions from mainline
charities like the D.C. area's Combined Federal Campaign. Charitable
fund-raising organizations such as the CFC, which raises funds from federal
government workers, require that recipient groups have a ceiling on overhead
costs from their own fund-raising programs that the national Names Project
Foundation would not be able to meet, Bento said.
Rhoad disputes Bento's claim that the foundation's fundraising costs come to 60
percent saying the figure was "considerably lower than that."
FOR MORE INFO
NAMES Project Foundation
P.O. Box 5552
Atlanta, GA 31107
The AIDS Memorial Quilt consists of more than 46,000 6-foot-by-3-foot cloth
panels commemorating people who have died of AIDS in the United States and
abroad. Most of the panels were made by friends and relatives of the deceased
persons, under the supervision of the Names Project Foundation and its various
chapters. The quilt became the subject of widespread media coverage when
organizers displayed it in its entirety on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on
The chapters have organized showings of sections of the quilt in cities and
towns throughout the country, including at schools and civic events.
News reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.