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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

AIDS Garden Chicago Delayed Again As State Funding Dries Up During Coronavirus Pandemic

The green, 30-foot statue of Keith Haring's "Self-Titled" sculpture stands alone at the site of the would-be AIDS Garden, while state funding for the project is in a jam.

A rendering shows plans for the AIDS Garden of Chicago, which hasn't been completed because its funding from the state has been jammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
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LAKEVIEW — The long-planned AIDS Garden Chicago has hit another snag thanks to economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has strained key funding sources for the project.

When finished, the public garden and memorial in honor of lives lost during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s will feature an educational walk, reflective “healing garden” and grand lawn showcasing the large “Self-Portrait” sculpture by artist Keith Haring, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.

The project is a public-private partnership to be funded by the city, state and Chicago Park Foundation, a nonprofit financial partner of the Chicago Park District, according to Willa Lang, executive director of the Parks Foundation.

The state had allocated nearly $1.5 million for the project this year, State Rep. Greg Harris (13th) said during a Monday community meeting. But that money depended on taxes on various goods and services, casinos and video gaming terminals, which haven’t been operating full steam during the pandemic.

For now, the 30-foot Haring statue stands alone in the parkland, located at 3003 N. Lakefront Trail near the “Belmont Rocks” where gay men would hang out in the ’80s.

“Long story short, it’s going to take a little bit longer than people thought to get the funding going to support this,” Harris said. “With the closures of so many bars, restaurants and other facilities, video gaming terminals are not producing revenue, so it’s going to take a while to get the funding.”

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A rendering shows the AIDS Garden’s plans for a grove of Gingko trees near the site’s entrance.

The AIDS Garden is among thousands of other projects that rely on this state funding, which will likely be prioritized by the governor once the state bounces back from the pandemic, Harris said.

“Hopefully with the vaccine, the economy will begin to return to normal, but I think that there will be at some point a revisiting of the different projects … that are part of the state’s capital plan,” Harris said.

This is not the first time the AIDS Garden project has lost momentum. The project previously was delayed during the financial crisis of 2008, according to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), a longtime backer of the garden. Efforts to finish the park were re-energized a few years ago.

“We reinvigorated [this project] knowing if our generation does not do this, it will not happen,” Tunney said.

Harris said it wasn’t clear when the money would be available, but the park’s planners hope to have the garden finished next year.

In the meantime, Lang said the Chicago Parks Foundation will continue raising money to support the garden’s construction and maintenance through its online fundraiser and new web store selling merchandise relating to the park.

“Our hope is that this funding is released quickly, but because it is so important to us to make this garden whole, we are continuing to fundraise now,” Lang said.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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