|Posted by Anne Siren on February 10, 2013 at 4:55 PM|
By Michael d’Oliveira
Wilton Manors – Facing AIDS may become less frightening if the proposed World AIDS Museum and Education Center becomes a reality here, a reality that will require some hefty contributions.
“[AIDS is still] a huge problem and there’s a huge stigma about it. People are pretending it doesn’t exist,” said Steve Stagon, president of the museum.The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.148 million people in the United States are infected with HIV/AIDS with 50,000 new cases occurring each year. An estimated 17,000 Americans and 1.8 million people worldwide die each year from the disease.
Unfortunately, Stagon knows first hand what the disease can do to people – beyond just the physical. “I’ve been HIV positive for 23 years. For a while it made me reclusive. It made me stop going out and seeing people [and led me to] certain situations that were less than healthy.”
It’s only through support groups that Stagon says he was able to get healthy, get his life back and find the strength to fight his situation. And it was through one of those groups, POZitive Attitudes, that the idea for the museum was born.
“This whole museum developed out of POZitive Attitudes,” said Stagon. The group, made up of gay and bi-sexual men infected with HIV or AIDS, meets Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. at Pride Center, 2040 N. Dixie Hwy., Wilton Manors.
And the museum’s board members hope they can find a location close by.
“We’d like to be in the Wilton Manors-Oakland Park-Fort Lauderdale area,” said Stagon. To get started, $50,000 is needed and about half that has been raised.
Stagon says organizers aim to open the world’s first AIDS museum. Another AIDS museum organization exists and wants to open a permanent exhibit in Newark but has yet to do so. “We want to start off small to show people what we’re all about. When they see what we’re doing they’ll be much more appreciative and see where we’re going with it,” said Stagon.
Right now, organizers are looking for a space, between 1,000 and 2,000 sq. ft., and money to fund their operations. If a permanent museum were built or acquired, it would feature various exhibits and themes.
One gallery would be dedicated to education and prevention, others would feature a timeline of HIV/AIDS with magazine covers and newspaper articles, photos of famous and noteworthy victims and information on vaccines and the progress scientists are making towards a cure.
Organizers also want the museum to become a focal point for those living with HIV/AIDS to find others facing the same situation. “We want to bring people back into the main stream of life,” said Stagon
Once the initial location is opened, organizers will borrow exhibits from other organizations and put them on display.
And David Friedland, event and exhibit planner, already has some lined up.
One is “Faces of AIDS” a plaster face cast provided by someone with the disease. “People can actually touch the face so they can be touched by the face of AIDS,” said Friedland.
Another will be a collection of posters, t-shirts and other memorabilia provided by Act Up, a group that organized marches to demand the government take action against AIDS.
An AIDS ribbon made out of HIV medication pill bottles is also waiting to find a temporary home in the museum.
Visit www.worldaidsmuseum.com for more information or to make a donation.