What is 11' X 11', contains unlimited creativity and helps raise funds for local AIDS patients and their families? The answer is the dining installations devised by local artists that create the ultimate design and dining experience right here in Columbus - DIFFA's Dining by Design event.

What is 11' X 11', contains unlimited creativity and helps raise funds for local AIDS patients and their families? The answer is the dining installations devised by local artists that create the ultimate design and dining experience right here in Columbus - DIFFA's Dining by Design event.


The beginning

What is DIFFA? DIFFA - Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS - is now celebrating its 25th anniversary as one of the largest funders of HIV/AIDS service and education programs in the U.S. DIFFA has raised more than $38 million to provide treatment and direct care for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as prevention education programs for at-risk populations.

The Dining by Design event is now in its 13th year and our city had the biggest inaugural event in 2007, raising over $250,000 in profit. Starting this year, we are back on the annual tour, joining the other six cities of New York, Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.


The ambiance

The highlights of the event are the dining installations. It all starts with an empty 11' by 11' space where 10 diners will eventually be seated. A designer then creates his own world within that space, limited only by his or her imagination. Of the installations at this year's event, only three - the Stolichnaya ELIT table by Jason Wu, the Change is Good table by New York designer Brad Ford, and the Castello di Gabbiano installation by renowned designer Marc Blackwell - are traveling across the county to every city on the tour. The rest of the dining installations will be conceived and executed by local artists and designers to reflect whatever theme they choose.

"Last year I did a parody on Green Acres in one of the installations," said Gary Bias, CEO and executive producer at EventCo Productions. "We had elements from the penthouse and the farm house, a clothes line running across with Lisa's couture hanging from it and a 20-foot-tall telephone pole as the centerpiece - with a phone and a raven at the top." Other installations have been knitted, contained walls covered in ivy, or had the entire table dcor composed entirely of paint chips. And it's not just the dining spaces that are spectacular; it's a whole visual and auditory experience. "The North Hall of Vets Memorial will be transformed," promised Bias. "You won't even recognize it. It will have theatrical lighting, music and a totally different energy. You won't even realize where you are."


The beneficiaries

Columbus can claim another first. It is the first city in 13 years to have two beneficiaries named for this event - the Pater Noster House and Nationwide Children's Hospital Family AIDS Clinic and Education Services (FACES) unit. The Pater Noster House provides transitional housing and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. FACES provides medical care to HIV-infected children and simultaneous primary and HIV care, and supportive services to all affected family members. Serving more than 38 counties, FACES provided care for 673 clients in 2008, an increase of 126 from the previous year.

"We want to create awareness," explained Bias. "It's no longer a disease of the young, gay man - this is everybody's disease. The most recent target populations are children from ages 8 to 13 and 18- to 25-year-old African-American females. There are no barriers as to what, or who, this disease affects."


The event experience

"The gala event will be totally different from any other gala event you have attended," Bias said. It starts with the gift bags, which last year contained department store gift cards, wine, pieces of jewelry, spa and restaurant gift certificates and chocolate confections.

The contents of this year's bag are top secret, but will be "amazing," Bias assured. When the event starts at 6:30 there will be no program, no awards - just conversation and art appreciation, Bias said. "It's so cutting-edge," he continued, "and so not typical of what a gala is. People are part of the atmosphere and environment. You'll get goose bumps." At approximately 8 p.m. the tables are "flipped," Bias said. "Within 15 minutes, priceless china and crystal that were part of the display are whisked away and replaced with tableware for the diners. Then three courses of amazing cuisine will be served, followed by Viennese dessert stations." Dancing and silent auctions follow.


The opportunities

If you can't make it to the main event, you still can be a part of it all during two additional events. On Friday night at the Cocktails by Design event, Stolichnaya cocktails and Castello di Gabbiano wines will be paired with food from top local chefs. On Saturday, the whole family can enjoy the experience together. "For both events there is full lighting and music - everyone can appreciate the brilliance of the designs and how all the creativity makes a statement," Bias said. "And you can pick up some great design tips, like how to add color, texture or layering to your own home."

In the end, it's all about the experience. "Dining by Design is art, life, creativity, excitement, surprise and whimsy," Bias said. "One of the best things about it is that it provides opportunities for anybody to learn and grow."


Marguerite Marsh is a freelance writer and winner of the Ohio Public Images 2008 Print Journalism Award of Excellence for her Columbus Parent article "Motherhood Redefined and Transformed by Treacher Collins Syndrome." She writes about health and wellness, families, relationships and pets, including her pet blog on ColumbusParent.com, Heavy Petting.