AAHSA Annual Meeting Orlando, FL October 2007

AAHSA Annual Convention in Orlando, FL (October 2007)
The AAHSA annual convention in Orlando was awesome! It was the most successful outing so far for the Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece exhibit.

AAHSA stands for the American Association of Homes & Services for the Aging. Their members are the nonprofit providers of aging services: nursing homes, memory care units, assisted living centers, continuing care retirement communities, independent housing and community-based services. Attendees, about 7000, were administrators mostly. They're from all over the US and there were some foreign delegates as well.

The "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" quilts were in a 30' x 60' room directly across from the registration center and the book store. We couldn't have asked for a better location or a better room. It had great light. The quilts were jewels against the black drape and the lighting made the quilting pop right out.

There was a setting for very low light and we were so astonished at the transformation when we turned the light low at the end of the day that we invited people in to see them. I can't even explain how they transformed. It would not have surprised me to hear voices or see images of the people they honor just hover above them.

It was quiet and people were reverent as they looked at the quilts. Although there were a handful of quilters (we're EVERYWHERE!) this was a predominantly non-quilting audience. We had more men see the exhibit in the first hour than probably all 16 prior venues combined.

The show went up in about three hours on Friday afternoon thanks to (left to right) my cousin Niki Gottesman, Karen Fieldstad, Art Callinan, yours truly, Nancy Prince, and Louise Maus from AAHSA who saw the quilts in Harrisburg, PA last year and arranged to bring quilts to the AAHSA meeting.

The Gallery opened at 7:15am on Saturday and we had a steady trickle all day. Sunday morning was the Interfaith Service (more below) and I got to show the "looping" images of people with Alzheimer's, quilters sewing, and finished quilts as people filed in. I also got to do a 30 minute lecture about my mom, quilting, and the AAQI.

When the service was concluded, almost 300 people went to see the quilts. It was wall-to-wall. People were standing outside to get in!

Over the course of the four and a half days that the quilts were on display, there was always somebody in the Gallery. They came early and they stayed late. Several times, the room was totally full when another group of people were let out from workshops and came to see the quilts. We were the buzz of the entire convention. Even some of the exhibitors came to see the quilts.

We sold more books than any other venue to date. We sold out and took orders. Ditto for the CDs. People purchased books in two's and three's and even five at a time — for their family and friends, for residents' families, to supplement their staff training. I got more requests to book the exhibit than all other venues combined. If they all follow through and request a date there aren't enough openings in the calendar to accommodate everyone!

Several people took out their cell phones and called their friends and colleagues to come and see the quilts. What a kick!

AAHSA provided teams of helpers to white glove the exhibit. They were wonderful. We stickered almost 2,000 people, but many slipped by when it was crowded. Lots of people came back two and three times to see the quilts. AAHSA printed thousands of full page flyers telling about the AAQI to distribute.

We also offered a silent auction of 20 Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts which raised an incredible $3195 — our best auction EVER! It was fantastic to see how happy people wanted to place the winning bids.

Christina Karamesines shared a poem about helping in New Orleans after Katrina, Dan Reingold from the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, NY spoke of starting an elder abuse treatment-prevention program at his facility, and in between we heard music from the Exciting Gospel Warriors. I was so proud and honored to be a part of the service.

Chaplain Mary Pauluk included references to quilting throughout the service: "We seek… a deeper union, a union quilted through choice and intent, through time and attention, through respect and compassion, until we recognize that we have become a whole cloth made rich and textured and vibrant through our differences. We are quilted together."

At the conclusion of the service we shared quilt patches. St John Lutheran Home in MN cut the ribbon-shaped fabric and wrote the name of a person who has (or had) Alzheimer's on the cloth. We pinned the patches on each other to remember and honor the life of the person on the fabric and said to each other, "Honor the fabric of your life. Live your story."

Standing with the quilts is always an honor. I am indebted to the artists who have entrusted the work of their hands and their hearts to me and I thank you again for the privilege of sharing this exhibit of your work. To those artists who created the quilts for the most successful Priority: Alzheimer's Quilt auction EVER, my hat is off to you! Well done! To everyone who had a hand in making this venue so successful for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative: Louise Maus who booked the show, the quilters who hung it and tore it down (you too, Niki), the AAHSA bookstore and staff, and the members of AAHSA — what generous and caring people you are — thank you! I hope our threads cross again some day.