chris-tepper

Visit the NYC AIDS Memorial

It's a place for contemplation, remembrance, and play.

With a background in urban planning and real estate development, New York City resident Christopher Tepper is often thinking about community space and historic preservation. But it was the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital (often referred to as the ground zero of the AIDS epidemic) in 2010 that led him to embark on a mission to transform the adjacent area into a memorial dedicated not only to the 100,000 people in the city who died from the disease, but also to their caregivers, friends, and loved ones. 

In celebration of LGBTQ pride month, Equinox partnered with Lewis Miller Design to bring a flash of rainbow flowers to the New York City AIDS Memorial, located next to the Greenwich Avenue club. What’s more, proceeds from the limited-edition print by renowned graphic artist Kobi Benzri in collaboration with Artspace will support the memorial.

Here, Tepper talks about obstacles he faced along the way and how he sees the memorial playing an important role for future generations.

Why was St. Vincent’s closing the catalyst for the project?

It’s a significant site because it was one of the few hospitals treating those affected by AIDS. It’s featured in a lot of works of art that depict the plague. It was crazy to me that there wasn’t a physical marker in the city after so much time and loss. The area is also home to impactful advocacy groups such as ACT UP and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and so that’s when there was an aha moment that this would be the perfect space.

What stands out to you the most about the memorial?

I look at it and see a three-dimensional, modern triangle that is referential of the triangle that’s a symbol for gay rights used by non-profits such as ACT UP. It’s not just static but on the move. For me, it’s as much a marker to reflect on the incredible loss of life as it is a war tribute to heroes from the community—advocates, neighbors, and community leaders who stood up and fought back to get the issue acknowledged and secure resources to combat AIDS.

Speaking of powerful voices, tell us about the involvement of artist Jenny Holzer.

We always had a placeholder for engraved text in the granite and wanted to find an artist that had a strong connection to New York City and link to the AIDS epidemic. Jenny Holzer was always a dream choice; she is an advocate for human rights her work has a very political, strong voice of speaking truth to power. She chose excerpts of Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself.

Were there any challenges along the way?

That West Village is relatively low on parks and among the community, there was a conflicting idea that a memorial would take away from a park. We had to show that the two could be merged. As part of the advocacy process, we took a page out of the High Line playbook and launched a design competition. It helped generate exciting ideas and allowed more people to be able to really visualize how cohesive it could be.

How is the space being used today?

It serves multiple purposes. You can sit there and have a piece of pizza, play with your kids, and just admire a beautiful sculptural artwork. Or you can interact with the memorial as a contemplative space. Recently there have been several rallies and it’s increasingly becoming a place for all sorts of activism.

What do you see for the future of the memorial?

Over time, I think it will become part of the city’s legacy and its fabric. As an organization, and with the programming that we’re investing in now, we want to continue to make sure there’s a societal dialogue and education around AIDS. It’s important to bridge the gap between those who lived and lost loved ones during the height of the epidemic and future generations.