We spoke to Christopher Tepper (LNY 21) Senior Project Manager at The Hudson Companies, and one of the co-founders of the new AIDS Memorial in Greenwich Village, which officially opened earlier this month.
How did you get involved in the AIDS memorial project?
The whole project really started when my friend Paul Kelterborn and I were working as urban planners at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Municipal Art Society in 2010. We were looking for ways to work on historic preservation for LGBT history in the city, and I was reading “And the Band Played On”, a book which documents the early years of the AIDS crisis. I was shocked at how little I knew about the AIDS crisis, despite being a politically active gay man. Then, St. Vincent’s Hospital went bankrupt and it provided a unique opportunity to create commemoration in a specific site of significance.
The whole endeavor started out very grassroots. We created a one-page flier with a map that described the fact that after 30 years and almost 100,000 deaths, New York still had no significant memorial for the AIDS epidemic. The whole neighborhood the memorial is in is so significant — it’s only half a block from the community center where ACT UP first started organizing. It wasn’t long before many advocacy groups and elected officials had signed on.
Not that it was easy — we had to get approval from the Community Board, the City Planning Commission, the Parks Department, the Public Design Commission, Landmarks…it was a long process. But once everything was approved, the idea became more real to people and we were able to move much more quickly.
What role did your Coro training play as you went about planning the Memorial?
Definitely one thing Coro helped me think through early in putting together the network of stakeholders was making sure we kept diversity in mind at all times. My initial hook into this issue was through my community, the LGBT community, and the impact that AIDS had there. But AIDS knew no boundaries, and it was just as impactful in communities of color, in African American and Latino communities, and it still is a formal epidemic in many communities around the city. We wanted to get a broad range of people who were involved, both racially and geographically, to build a New York AIDS memorial, not just a Greenwich Village memorial.
I work at Hudson Companies now, and my colleagues David Kramer (Fellows 1988), Alison Novak (LNY 21) and Aaron Koffman (LNY 22) are huge Coro supporters. All of the work that went into this was 100% volunteer, and Aaron, Alison and David have been so supportive of me being a part of this, and they understand that it takes time. I wouldn’t have been able to work on this for the past 6 years without the support of bosses who are also using their Coro training and care about making the city better.
What do you hope people will take away from the space?
We are really thinking of it as a space for public learning. Memorials for a lot of people are spaces where they feel empowered or invited to share stories, to talk, to feel their feelings and to remember. There is so much of that lacking, especially in regard to the AIDS epidemic. Many who went through the peak years are either traumatized or don’t feel like anyone wants to hear what they have to say. We hope it can be a place they feel they can share their story.