Joining the revolt against the traditional Austin gala

Austin guests have been in open revolt against the traditional Austin gala for some time. They tell me that the standard black-tie affair is too long, too loud, too starchy and too gabby.

When one of Austin’s top social benefactors, Mary Herr Tally, starts storming the gala barricades, you know that change is in the air.

Mary Herr Tally with a designer pet collar made by Shanny Lott. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

She calls her upcoming benefit for no-kill shelter and service, Austin Pets Alive, a “non-gala,” a term already in usage, or a maybe “neo-gala,” which better fits her slimmed down, unbuttoned strategy.

RELATED: Breathing life into Austin’s No Kill wins.

Even the name of her April 7 event at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, Tailwaggers  borrowed from Hollywood star Bette Davis‘ animal welfare outings in the 1940s — suggests something spontaneous, serendipitous.

“People ask: ‘How’s your gala?'” Tally reports. “Well, it’s not one. It’s casual cocktails and dinner. You take away all the tedious parts; do your key fundraising prior to the event; and avoid beating your guests down with a live auction or cash call.”

Tally is no stranger to the conventional gala. Since 1994, she has raised money for what used to be called the Austin Museum of ArtLong Center for the Performing Arts and Zach Theatre and Austin Opera as well as Seton Breast Care Center, Center for Child Protection and various animal welfare causes.

She felt Austin Pets Alive needed a signature event. She huddled with social masterminds such as Armando Zambrano and Carla McDonald to brainstorm for Tailwaggers.

A lightbulb moment came when McDonald proposed offering designer pet collars, auctioned silently. Tally was all in: “No painful live auction!”

She described how guests get distracted during the extended bidding of a live auction.

“People get up and walk out,” Tally says. “It’s embarrassing. It’s messed up. I mean, the live auctioneers have the best intentions …”

Cash calls — also known as “fund a cause” or, even more colloquially, “paddles up” — are no better if they last more than a few moments.

“Then you get your food. Finally,” Tally sighs. “We’re trying to redefine the gala that doesn’t have to be about a ball gown and and a tux. Austinites are sophisticated. They know what to wear to a good party.”

If forced to pin a name on the Tailwaggers sartorial style, she’d call it “Austin casual cocktail.”

“Just wear what you wear when you go out to dinner!” Tally says. “That could be jeans and a cute top, or it could be a dress. Austinites know how to dress, even if it has to be different at times to get some people out.”

Tally recently adopted a mixed breed dog from the Austin Animal Shelter that had been pulled from the Lockhart shelter’s euthanasia list.

“Annie Richards” was not what she expected to bring home.

“You think you know what you want,” she says. “Then you find the one.”

UPDATE: The origin of Annie Richards was clarified in a recent update.

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and

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