Friday, October 2, 2009

The "Stealing Pieces" exhibit travels Florida

One of the more moving ALS awareness campaigns of 2008 came from the ALS Society of Canada, showing a father’s deterioration. “Sarah’s Story”, an extremely powerful ad by the UK MND Association, was banned earlier this fall. In 2009, the Florida chapter of the ALS Association (ALSA) launched its own moving ALS awareness installation entitled “Stealing Pieces.” The exhibit has been travelling across the state since early 2009, and is booked into 2010.

At first glance, the “Stealing Pieces” installation looks like an experimental fashion project. More than one hundred mannequins, dressed only in black t-shirts, are positioned in precise rows across parks, malls and other public areas, spaced to resemble a graveyard.

Upon closer inspection the shirts read: “Lou Gehrig's disease is stealing our loved ones piece by piece,” (see a close-up photo here). On the back of each shirt is the name of a Floridian affected by the disease, their birth year, and sometimes their year of death. The mannequins are armless, legless, headless, and scarred with use. The ultimate impression is eerie and haunting.

The installation was conceived by Tampa’s Dunn & Co. advertising agency, who donated its time and resources to the creation of the exhibit. Conceptually, the campaign was intended to mimic the disease progression in ALS patients.

“So the idea of the mannequins is that ALS patients are literally, completely paralyzed. They lose their arms and their legs,” said Kamden Kuhn of the ALS Association. “I think that's why we’ve seen some people absolutely moved to tears...Symbolically they have already been stolen, piece by piece by Lou Gehrig’s disease. We want people to see that and we want it to affect them emotionally, but also affect them to take action.”

This exhibit has moved observers, and provided more dimension to an ongoing debate on shock tactics in public awareness campaigns. One online commenter observed, “Definitely creepy. But, you know, it got my attention, which is tough these days. And it's probably going to stay with me awhile. So...kudos.”

“The display is powerful and so very true,” said another. “Lou Gehrig's disease stole my loved one piece by piece.”

As occurred with “Sarah’s Story”, the ALS Association of Florida saw a significant increase in the number of volunteers and donors during the first few months of the exhibit. ALSA has said that more than 60% of donations to the exhibit come from first-time donors, indicating that this project is indeed powerful.

by Meghan Kallman

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