Telluride AIDS Benefit: Week in Review

Telluride AIDS Benefit: Week in Review

Boy PosterAIDS/TAB overvu:

About 30 years ago, a faceless, nameless virus was announced in France. About one year later, word traveled across the pond: an announcement out of Washington, D.C made the disease official in the U.S. With a swiftness that imitates the spread of the disease, AIDS became enmeshed in the fabric of our society.

Over the past 33 years, the virus has killed over 38 million people and still infects three million worldwide each year. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 1.1 million people in our country are living with the HIV infection, and almost 1 in 6 or about 15.8% are unaware of their infection.

From the get-go, AIDS victims and their families have flocked like moths to flames of hope – a miracle cure whispered here; a sudden recovery talked about there. The pot of gold everyone is seeking at the end of the rainbow is a vaccine, but so far, nada.

At the same time, as people have watched friends cut down in the prime of life, they have tried to make sense of the scourge by channeling their experience into ways to help. The Telluride AIDS Benefit evolved from that impetus.

In 1994, the fledgling event was all about helping a local and friend, Robert Presley, battle the disease and pay mounting medical bills. But what Presley wanted was to help others.

TAB has reached its maturity, turned 21, so it is time to look over our shoulders at how it all began and how far the nonprofit phenomenon has traveled to help individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS help themselves, from the Front Range to the Western Slope and as far as Africa. TAB beneficiaries include West CAP (still); Denver Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program (CHIP); Brother Jeff’s Health Initiative; The Telluride Project in Manzini, Swaziland, Sub-Saharan Africa; and this year, Ubuntu Africa takes center stage at the auction.

Robert Presley, TAB's muse, 1997

Year #1, DeGraw took three months off work to put it together and TAB raised $12,000 for WestCAP:

“We ran an ad for volunteers and had 120 people show up. It was incredible,” recalls DeGraw.

Year #2, when local Daiva Chesonis entered the picture, the comedy show morphed into a fashion show, adding distinctive elements that would forever shape the principal fundraiser.

“It’s really Daiva’s baby,” says DeGraw. “She made the fashion show happen.” 

For inaugural fashion show in 1995, Presley created an entire clothing line out of inflatable pool toys, setting in motion a tradition of over-the-top confections made from whatever moved a designer: household items like cellophane and tin foil, condoms and more from grandma’s attic. Big name designers also donated and every year until he grew too ill to work, Presley continued to stitch together a special, signature collection.

Scene from TAB's gala fashion show past. Attitude rules.

Scene from TAB’s gala fashion show past. Attitude rules.

TAB today boasts a dedicated staff of about 100, many of whom were involved from the start:

“It’s a tribute to Telluride that the people who live here have this incredible spirit and are willing to put so much work into something to make it happen,” says DeGraw. “It might have been my idea right at the start, but the event and its success belongs to this community. Telluride is an amazing place. People here truly rally to support people and causes they believe in. Hard to find that depth of heart stuff in this day and age.”

Presley succumbed to AIDS in 1997, but his legacy lives on through TAB and his friends. To date, the nonprofit has raised close to $2 million in support of educational initiatives and a growing list of beneficiaries.

Ron Gilmer, TAB's executive director Stash & Brother Jeff's Initiative

Ron Gilmer, TAB’s executive director Stash & Brother Jeff’s Initiative

As Presley’s former partner, AIDS activist Ron Gilmer points out:

“While it is true strides have been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, for every person newly treated, two or three more are newly infected. In reality, AIDS is a hardy, adaptable virus that only a vaccine will stop. What’s more, AIDS remains highly stigmatized: most people believe it is contracted through immoral or indecent behavior, yet more often it infects innocent partners or those who do not practice safe sex. An unfaithful partner, a tainted blood transfusion, a moment of indiscretion in the heat of passion can change your life forever. In truth, the AIDS virus does not care who you are and for that reason and to fight all the prejudice surrounding the disease, Robert cared deeply about AIDS education. The Telluride AIDS Benefit was born out of the kindness of people who cared for their close friend and want to prevent for suffering. It is a compassionate event that aids many people our community will never know.”

For TAB 2014, Ana Coe replaces the nearly irreplaceable Jodie Shike Wright as board chair. Ana has been an indefatigable TAB supporter and volunteer for years. Why does she give her time and talent?

“The Telluride AIDS Benefit embodies the attributes of the person I strive to be: it is heartfelt, passionate, compassionate, arts-driven, aware and always striving to make a difference.”

Below is the Schedule of the week’s activities:

Scene from  Student Fashion Show 2013

Scene from Student Fashion Show 2013

“Our students are the best. They source their own donations for this show, as well as model, direct, and choreograph,” said Coe.

The event founded in 2002 this year features: student director Katy Gumble; assistant director/assistant choreographer Terra Hazen; choreographer Leah Vilaranda; set design/apparel acquisition: Cory Page; stage manager Colleen Kennedy.

Tickets are $10, students/ teachers; $15 general admission; $20 for seating in orchestra pit; and $25 per person for VIP tables of four, including beverages and snacks.

Trunk show follows in cafeteria 15 minutes after the fashion show ends.

Twenty(by)Telluride the TAB edition, Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, Saturday, February 22, 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.

In 2014, Telluride Arts’ Twenty(by)Telluride event will profile the creative people involved with some of the great local institutions that make Telluride an thriving, world-class Arts District. The February 22 event showcases some of the creative talent behind the Telluride Aids Benefit.


Katy Parnello
Kathleen Morgan
Steve Fassbinder
Molly Wickwire-Sante
Keith Hill

Sneak Peek Fashion Show, Thursday, February 27, Telluride Mountain Village Conference Center

“‘Local’s Night.’ It is all about seeing and be seen at this social event of the season. Live auction action  follows the show.”

Friday, February 28:

Education, Palm Theatre, starting @ 8:30 a.m.

Program targets students, grades 7-12. ( Not for  the general public)

Among the many young people helped by Ubuntu Africa

Among the many young people helped by Ubuntu Africa

The guest speaker is Whitney Johnson from Ubuntu Africa, singled out for support at this year’s auction following the gala fashion show. Other presenters are representatives from other beneficiaries: WestCAP, Brother Jeff’s Health Initiative, CHIP. A representative from the Mountain Village Police Department is also on hand to talk about appropriate use of the Internet/technology.

Note: the Colorado department of Education now includes AIDS/HIV education as part of its state educational standards (required curriculum) for high schools. 

Art Auction, Sheridan Opera House, all day

Baerbel's art auction for TAB. Always a crowd scene. Always a home for every piece of art.

Baerbel’s art auction for TAB. Always a crowd scene. Always a home for every piece of art.

Put together annually by Baerbel Hacke of the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, who sources works from national, regional and local talents to find great art, which she offers to TAB supporters at great prices. Second to the fashion show and its auction, the popular art auction raises the most money for the cause. Another must-go.

Gala Fashion Show, March 1, Telluride Conference Center

TAB’s signature event. The show is hot, and so is the bidding for fashions and the great packages at the auction following the catwalk.

After-Party, Sheridan Opera House, begins 10:30 p.m.

Dance the night away to the sounds of DJ Cato and celebrate another successful TAB week.

TAB Sample Sale, March 3, 2014 Sheridan Opera House

Your opportunity to snatch up all of the beautiful clothing you admired on the runway. Get there early for first picks.

For further information, call 970-728-0869 or go to

1 Comment
  • Sunny Griffin
    Posted at 02:16h, 18 February

    This is when I really really miss Telluride. Have a great show and a great week.