AIDS memorial coming to Winn Park?

Sacramento could become the home of what backers say will be California’s only official AIDS memorial. The proposed AIDS Memorial Fountain and Reflecting Pool originated as part of a capital improvement plan for Midtown’s Winn Park.

The idea was scrapped for lack of public funds, but the memorial can still come to light if enough private funds are raised. The memorial, designed by Sacramento landscape architect Tin Wha Mae, will honor Sacramento’s AIDS victims, as well as former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin, who was committed to assisting those suffering from the virus even back in the early 1980s when the crisis was new and then-President Ronald Reagan pointedly refused to even utter the word, “AIDS.”

Outword Magazine’s executive editor Erich Mathias is heading up the fund-raising effort. “There has been Earth-shaking support for this project,” said Mathias. “I’m getting around six calls a day from people who want to donate.”

Mathias is currently meeting with trust attorneys to establish a fund for private donations as part of the city’s “Gifts to Share” program, which allows all donations to be tax deductible. City councilman Steve Cohn has committed to match the private funds raised with the $100,000 allotted to the Winn Park restoration project.

“In the Midtown community, there are many who have had a personal experience with AIDS. It’s time we had a memorial there,” Cohn said. “The fountain would be designed in a way to make you remember and honor the people who have died of AIDS. It would be a peaceful and contemplative place within the park.”

Miraculously for such a potentially polarizing project, neither Mathias nor Cohn has heard much opposition to the idea. According to Cohn, a few people in the community are concerned that the money for the fountain will take away from the other renovations, but the city has not received any angry letters yet. Mathias is sure that all of the estimated $15,000 to $20,000 needed from private donors will come in.

Mathias feels that education is an important component in preventing the spread of HIV, and that the money will be well spent. His vision is to have the memorial be a focal point of city-sponsored educational tours, and a starting point for AIDS marches.

“Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control have been saying that we’ve got a whole new generation of potential AIDS victims,” said Mathias. “We’re 20 years into this crisis, but people are still not wearing condoms every time they have sex. Just in this community, 2,500 people have died [from AIDS], and those are just the ones we know about. We need to honor the people who have passed on, as well as educate the next generation.”