CHAPEL HILL, NC – Residents at Carolina Meadows, the largest continuing care retirement community in the Triangle, are travelling back in time for a night of fun, food and the fantastic reveal of “Downton Abbey”-inspired portraits – all in support of UNC-TV’s annual fundraiser.
It was resident Susan Gaca who came up with the idea last summer to recreate 13 “Downton Abbey” photos after flipping through books showcasing the show’s costumes, characters and settings – naming the project “Downton Meadows.”
Gaca and residents Chris Kesner and Carol Lehmann thought the portraits would be a great way to raise awareness and money for a cause the community supports every year – the UNC-TV annual fundraiser.
Little did they know the rest of the community would be just as excited about the project. Lehmann spearheaded the search for models with features similar to those of “Downton Abbey” characters.
“I approached speaking to these people and asking them to do what we wanted them to do with a certain amount of anxiety. I mean I was asking them to give up a fair amount of time to do something that for some people is very personal. But there was not one single person who hesitated,” Lehmann said.
Over the course of three months, dozens of residents joined the effort, organizing and modeling for the creative photo project that captured the spirit of the popular show and the community.
The group found a skilled photographer, Jack Benjamin, who offered to take the photos pro-bono and secured costumes from PlayMakers Repertory Company and Bernard’s Formalwear – all provided free of charge.
The UNC-TV fundraiser kicks off on Feb. 21, and to celebrate the start, Carolina Meadows is hosting a “Downton Abbey”-themed dinner for residents and local media Saturday, Feb. 21, when the stunning “Downton Meadows” portraits will be revealed to the public.
“I think there is a lot of buzz and excitement about seeing these,” Kesner said.
Viewscreen of a camera showing one of the Downton Meadows pictures
Organizers hope these portraits will encourage residents to make donations to UNC-TV’s month-long fundraiser.
“It’s in support of UNC-TV because we all feel that’s worthwhile, but also it’s just what the people here do,” resident Charlie Lehmann said.
Resident volunteers will also stop by the studio March 18 at 5:30 p.m. to answer calls and gather pledges. Last year, Carolina Meadows residents and their company matching programs raised more than $22,600 in just three weeks, contributing to the importance of North Carolina’s 12-station public broadcasting system.