Artists Anna Fitch and Banker White are collaborating with Family Caregiver Alliance to create a multimedia work, Heaven Through the Backdoor. The project tells the story of Yolanda Shae, a fiercely independent 88-year-old Swiss émigré whose distinctive brand of feminism culminates in how she chose to live in old age and to die at home. It follows Shae during the last two years of her life, as she declines physically while her mind and spirit remain sharp. Through her, it explores themes of identity, judgement, feminism, community, and how Americans deal with end-of-life care.
The finished work will be presented as an installation featuring a one-third scale version of Shae’s house. In and around that model of her home, audiences will encounter listening stations and embedded media elements as well as multichannel screens and projected video. It also will be shared as series of short films to be shown at film festivals.
Founded in the late 1970s, Family Caregiver Alliance is the first community-based nonprofit organization in the country to address the needs of families and friends providing long-term care for loved ones at home. Fitch and White met Alliance Director Kathy Kelly during work on their earlier film, The Genius of Marian, which traced the story of White’s mother’s struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In that project, the artists and Alliance worked together to create educational materials and strategic engagement plans. For Heaven Through the Backdoor, Kelly and her staff also will introduce the artists to professionals in the field of aging, who will inform creation of the work and help to build understanding and support for the project.
Photo of Anna Fitch by Christie Pham