by Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager
The American Indian Arts Celebration, or AIAC for short, has taken place each year at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki since the Museum opened in 1997. The event has always featured an exciting line-up of performers, demonstrations, and vendors, and this year was no exception. This was my second year as the overall event planner, but I have either attended or participated in every AIAC since 2008. I might sound a little biased here, but I feel confident in saying that the 2015 event was the best AIAC yet! Why was it the best? Let’s take a look…
Visitation: The most obvious detail that set this year’s event apart from the rest was our overall visitation. We were up 40% from last year! If we take a look back over the past few years, we see that we were up 55% from 2013, 144% from 2012 (no, that is not a typo!), 59% from 2011, and 35% from 2010. We had a ton of schools come out and take advantage of our “education day” on Friday. For the $5 group rate, AIAC is the biggest bargain of the year! Most of our visitors came from surrounding areas but we also saw people from Canada, Italy, New York, Colombia, France, Germany, Connecticut, and Belgium. Not only did visitors enjoy the festival, most also took advantage of visiting the Museum galleries and boardwalk for the full Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki experience.
Vendors: At AIAC, there is truly something for everyone. This year we had 44 arts and crafts vendors, three traditional Seminole food vendors, and two food trucks (three on Friday). While many of our arts and crafts vendors were Seminole, we also had vendors from other tribes represented– Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Lower Muscogee Creek, Inca Ajibwa, Navajo, Miccosukee, and Dineh (Navajo). For something unexpected, TV-Head Co. joined us with a booth of wooden watches, bow ties, wallets, and sunglasses.
The Main Stage: We had six different performers or demonstrations on Friday and seven on Saturday. Tribal elder Bobby Henry provided the opening ceremony both days and engaged the audience with his traditional Seminole dances. Billy Walker and Paul Simmons awed guest with their alligator wrestling shows.
The Warriors of AniKituhwa joined us from Cherokee, NC and provided a riveting dance performance.
Rita Youngman, Jerry Mincey, and Cypress Billie sang songs that told tales of Florida life. Saturday’s patchwork fashion show showed visitors a contemporary take on a traditional Seminole dress and the Martial Arts demonstration put a whole new spin on a traditional reenactment.
Other Offerings: On top of visiting vendor booths and watching exciting performers, visitors could stop by the information booth for a food tasting featuring Seminole fry bread and sofkee. New this year, Museum and THPO staff acted as gallery docents to provide additional information to visitors inside the museum. Saturday morning kicked off with a bird watching nature walk, where over 20 different species of birds were seen or heard!
An outdoor exhibit installation featuring Seminole Spirit photographs, an archery station, Elgin Jumper painting “en plein air,” a demonstration tent with three booths featuring Seminole weaponry, the Florida cow-whip, and Cherokee traditions, and a craft tent with three different (free) craft options rounded out the experience. Last but not least, we partnered with Billie Swamp Safari to offer free shuttle rides to take our visitors to their park, where visitors could receive 50% off any attraction just by showing their AIAC wristband.
TEAMWORK: How did we make it all happen??? Teamwork! The Museum and THPO staff came together and unified as one group to provide an exciting event to our visitors. Even though the event took an incredible amount of planning, coordination, and hard work, we left with a huge smile on our faces. We all went home Saturday evening knowing that we created an event that made the Tribal community and all of our visitors proud to be in attendance.
The only negative of the event was knowing this was the last time we will have our MVP on staff, Mr. Gene Davis. Gene, it it impossible to express how much we will all miss working with you! Good luck in your future endeavors.