Coastal optimism quilts journey to Louisiana

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December 19, 2021 by Dr. G

Photo taken during one of the fieldtrips at OCEANDOTCOMM (2018)

When I first began quilting science stories from southern Louisiana, specifically the stories themed on “coastal optimism” from my time at LUMCON in 2018, I had in mind the audiences I wanted to reach. I was looking to reach people that typically do not engage with science stories (non-STEM audiences) and people from one particular geographic region – the Louisiana coast. The residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes we met through the LUMCON OCEANDOTCOMM event were so generous with their passion, patience, and time in sharing their stories of adaptation and resilience – these quilts were made for them, and I was always hoping I could find a way to share the quilts back with them, to thank them for allowing me to tell their stories.

I finished the nine-quilt collection Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast and was provided an incredible opportunity to showcase the quilts in New Orleans during the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting (December 13-17, 2021). The quilts would be on display in the convention center and only visible to the scientists in attendance – or so I thought. I was allowed into the Exhibit Hall early when all the vendors were setting up their booths so I could get the quilts unpacked. There were three convention center staff assisting me with setting up the quilts who were all coastal Louisiana residents. They asked about each of the quilts they were hanging up, what the fabrics on the front and back meant, and even brought over other convention center staff to look at the quilts – and then they shared the stories I just told them! They immediately connected with the story of TABASCO, commented on the story of the Endangered Species Act, and one of the staff knew the same citizens of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe I had met back in 2018. One staffer even wanted to purchase one of the quilts!

Photo from inside the Exhibit Hall of the New Orleans Convention Center (taken December 13, 2021)

After I finished getting the quilts on display, I rolled my empty luggage back over to my hotel room to drop it off before continuing on to conference sessions. As soon as I entered my room, I immediately burst into tears. It was just an incredible feeling to have that interaction with Louisiana residents, an audience I didn’t think I’d have an opportunity to interact with.

I continued to lurk around my quilt exhibit during the week to see if anyone else took interest in the display. Not only was I pleased to see conference attendees stroll through the quilts but exhibitors and other convention center staffers came on by. I struggled with jumping in to introduce myself and explain the quilts, or to stay back and allow each person to form their own connection with the quilts. But some people recognized me from my photo on the sign and came over to talk to me, even sharing some of their own science/quilt stories. For those I spoke to, all of the conversations were positive and appreciative to see this form of science art included at AGU. One person even went back to their hotel room to grab a camera to take photos of the quilts! I was incredibly flattered that even more people beyond the convention center staff asked to purchase a quilt – but I’m not ready to break up this collection just yet, as I have more sharing of coastal optimism to do! Yet in sharing my process of how I create the storyline to how I select the fabrics and design the quilt, I’m sure there will soon be some more science quilters out there!

Below is a quick walk-through of the display! If you would like to see images/video clips of each quilt, please view my post of the Full collection – Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast.

There was a QR code on the sign next to each quilt that opened up to a post on this blog describing the quilt, and there were close to 200 QR code scans made during the AGU Fall Meeting. (*something for me to note for next time… many people did not scan the QR code, as they said they didn’t know what it was there for) And there were some posts on social media I saw about the quilts – even the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe posted on Twitter about my Growing the Pointe-au-Chien Garden quilt! I hope all of these quilt images and stories are continuing to be shared to further their dissemination and conversations about the Louisiana coast.

Thank you, AGU, for providing me this amazing opportunity to engage the international AGU community, as well as the convention center employees/Louisiana residents, with these stories of coastal optimism. May there be more quilts and forms of creative science communication at future AGU meetings!

I especially would like to thank Lauren Parr, AGU’s Vice President of Meetings, for reaching out to me about displaying the quilts after seeing my Ignite@AGU 2020 talk, Rebecca Orens, AGU’s Assistant Director of Meetings Experience Design for all of the back-and-forth communication and coordination for the amazing showcase display, and Susanne Davison, AGU Meetings Director, for helping ensure I could get the access and assistance in setting up the quilts on the opening day of the exhibit!

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