The Arts’ Influence on the AIDS Epidemic: A Change in Perspective

In the last section I examined the artistic response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. Because artists were greatly affected by the AIDS disease, there was bound to be a response from the community. This response sparked a whole new artistic movement which sought to memorialize those that had died of AIDS and bring awareness to the public of the effects of the disease. This new artistic movement greatly influenced the public’s perception of the AIDS epidemic. In this section I will demonstrate how the artistic movement led to more recognition to the AIDS epidemic and, ultimately, better treatment options for a larger demographic.

ACT UP Gran Fury Poster
Silence = Death Poster, taken from Against the Odds

As mentioned in the last section, the social activist group ACT UP is probably the most widely known AIDS activist group in the United States. The¬†Silence = Death¬†poster that is closely associated with the group was seen by countless people. The poster was placed all around big cities and was very successful in spreading its message of gay liberation and AIDS awareness. Kieth Haring, also mentioned in the last section, created several paintings with the purpose of raising awareness of AIDS. His paintings reached many people throughout the United States, helping to begin changing the public’s view of the disease.

As artists reached more and more people, the public began to recognize the far-reaching effects of AIDS. This led people to put pressure on the government for programs that provided help to people with AIDS. In 1990 Congress passed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS CARE Act. The program “provides a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured (About the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program).” In 1992 the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved a testing kit that allowed healthcare professionals to detect HIV in ten minutes (History of HIV and AIDS Overview). Advancements in the treatment of HIV/AIDS also started to become available. “In June 1995, the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor beginning a new era of highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART). Once incorporated into clinical practice HAART brought about an immediate decline of between 60% and 80% in rates of AIDS-related deaths and hospitalisation in those countries which could afford it (History of HIV and AIDS Overview).”

ACT UP Rally at City Hall Park in 1988, Image from Museum of the City of New York

These government programs have greatly helped many people that are living with HIV/AIDS. The advancements in treatment options has elongated the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. The disease is no longer a death sentence to people. All of these advancements, however, were not the initial reaction to the epidemic. The epidemic was largely ignored by the public for the first few years of the epidemic in the early to mid 1980s. It was not until artists began to create art that recognized the AIDS epidemic that the public’s view began to change. The artistic movement and social activist groups created in response to the AIDS epidemic connected with the public and successfully changed it’s view from neglect to caring.