Banner highlighting materials in the HIV, AIDS & the Arts collection

Collection overview

Inspired by the many contemporary critical works and archives focusing on the intellectual and social history of HIV and AIDS, Reveal Digital will add to the suite of digital archives in its Diversity & Dissent fund an internationally scoped collection of primary sources documenting the artistic response to the epidemic.

From the earliest years of the crisis, arts in all media were a critical tool for fighting fear, apathy and inaction. Arts also embody an active response to the lived experience of the epidemic and a celebration and amplification of life and lives lost. As poet Essex Hemphill wrote in 1989, “My witnesses / will have to answer / to go-go music. / Dancing and sweat / will be required / at my funeral.”

More than four decades have now passed since AIDS was first recognized in the American press. Landmark projects, such as Visual AIDS, have brought the artistic output of AIDS activists into the public eye. Our collection strives to build upon this work to preserve and make accessible this output by adding coverage of those who may have remained in the margins of these histories. We are seeking out the trans* artists, woman artists, and BIPOC artists whose work has yet to be discovered. By doing so, we will add to the richness and completeness of the representation of how artistic communities created new understandings of HIV and AIDS.

In a similar vein, the collection will have a global outlook. We acknowledge that the historical locus of collecting, curation, and study lies within Western institutions, and that artists working outside the United States are frequently overlooked in these same contexts. This dynamic largely emerges from a lack of primary source documentation available for study. Entire genres of “AIDS art” have fallen to the wayside as a result. As this effect is especially pronounced in regards to Africa, the collection will be intentional in seeking to include African artists who are responding to the epidemic through their work. As a result, the collection will offer additional sources to address the continuing need for coverage of non-Western arts in online research collections.


HIV, AIDS & the Arts will aim to preserve approximately 75,000 pages and items of primary sources in all art forms whenever possible: Sheet music, manuscripts, playbills and production notes, and all manner of visual art, as well as the personal papers of lesser known artists of all types. By no means comprehensive, the collection acknowledges the impossibility of representing all forms or artists, as the artistic production in response to the epidemic is ongoing. By focusing on breadth rather than depth, Reveal Digital seeks to offer pathways for viewers to discover voices and seek further unknowns. The absences in this collection will be as important as what is included. In its incomplete nature, the collection invites question and critique of what is included, towards recognizing the work of artists that remains to be discovered.

Advisory panel and consent

To provide deeper resources to support this scholarship, the collection development strategy will also include outreach to scholars and artists who are still living, to seek their input and their permission, including through the convening of a formal advisory panel specific to the collection. Work to create the collection includes seeking consent from artists or their estates, and a mechanism to remove works upon request is in place.

Content contributors

We are actively pursuing sourcing agreements from a target list of more than 300 potential content contributors. We will list the cultural heritage institutions here as they agree to participate in the project. The following have agreed to provide source material for scanning. Please contact us if your organization has source material that you would like to contribute to the project.

  • College of William and Mary
  • Davidson College, Van Every/Smith Galleries
  • GLBT Historical Society
  • Museum of Performance + Design (San Francisco, CA)
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of South Florida


HIV, AIDS & the Arts falls is made possible by Reveal Digital’s Diversity & Dissent Fund, a publishing program in which libraries and archives pool funding and primary source materials to create Open Access collections that focus on marginalized and underrepresented voices. Learn about the inception of the collection in an interview with the Reveal Digital team.

All funding needed to publish HIV, AIDS & the Arts will be drawn from the Diversity & Dissent Digitization Fund, which is now fully funded. Visit the Diversity & Dissent page for information about the program and the list of libraries that contributed to the funding pool.

Interested in contributing content?

We are actively approaching a number of libraries for participation, but funding libraries can also contribute some content; ten percent of the collection is being reserved for content provided by those libraries not specifically targeted for inclusion.

Funding libraries are invited to nominate source material from their own collections, from a single document to multiple boxes.

Contact us to learn more