The Art of the Gala, already one of Austin’s most effective charitable convocations, just doubled its scope and stature.
Founded by Monica Maldonado Williams, publisher of nonprofit tracker Giving City, this annual training day for fundraisers combines speeches, panels and breakout sessions devoted to how to best throw a charity event. It has been a must-go for development officers and volunteer gala captains. (The American-Statesman publishes a weekly column about the area’s nonprofit community through a partnership with Giving City Austin.)
This year for the first time, Williams will partner with Jennifer Horn Stevens, CEO of the JHL Company, producer of the giant Mack, Jack and McConaughey party and other signature events. Stevens has added activities for top donors and nonprofit executives, turning it into a premium networking event for best practices in the field.
Attendees will be able to choose from these topics:
• Day-of Fundraising
• Event Planning & Execution
• Working With Vendors
• Making The Event Magical
• Expanding the Audience
• Donor Retention
• Non-Event Revenue
“The Art of the Gala is a terrific resource for nonprofits,” says Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity. “Adding JHL to the mix takes this event to the next level. JHL brings creativity, practical donor recruitment and retention strategies and a focus on integrating major events into overall strategic plans and marketing goals of an organization.”
Another smart move: Instead of a long runway show, models will present different looks during the extended luncheon, which starts, yes, at 10:30 a.m., and usually attracts a big crowd, 98 percent stylishly attired women. Perhaps more men will come out for Gunn.
A reminder that the Jewel Ball, this year honoring longtime symphony leader Jane Sibley, will follow on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at Palmer Auditorium. This is Austin’s biggest — and among the last — traditional debutante ball, so if you go, expect many grand presentations of offspring from Old Austin families.
We always cheer the Austin Under 40 Awardsceremony, not just because it benefits two worthy causes, YWA Foundation and the Austin Sunshine Camps, but also because so many rising social stars end up among the winners.
Don’t worry about the future; these leaders will be in charge.
Saturday’s party at the JW Marriott grossed $280,000. The net amount for the charities has not yet been announced.
David Kurio‘s cascading floral arrangements filled the eye at every angle during the Red, Hot and Soul gala, staged in the Bobbi Tent at Zach Theatre‘s South Austin complex. The splashy arrays matched the evening’s theme, “Saturday in the Park,” an idea hitched to the theater’s first full-blown take on Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens later this month.
Naturally, Artistic Director Dave Steakley opened the dinner/auction with the show’s extraordinarily difficult but ultimately gratifying first-act choral finale. The performance — indeed the whole run of the show — was dedicated to Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to salute her 10th anniversary in the job.
The performers never rested during the 12 auction-item “scenes.” This sizzling entertainment took the place of the musical numbers customarily presented later on the stage of the Topfer Theatre, which was instead dedicated to late-night dancing. The highlight during this tent show was a triumphant version of “I Am Me” from the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” from Zach’s youth troupe.
While this plan concentrated the joy around the superb Four Seasons Hotel Austin dinner — keep serving that buttery cod! — a dozen is still a lot of auction items and guests began to melt away by No. 9.
This is a crowd you want to keep close by. I’d wager that more of Austin’s “top socials” were gathered here than at any other Austin gala this season. I’d name a few, but the list would go on and on.
AUSTIN BOOK AWARDS
The evening began with a magnificent meal.
Led by Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, a merry band assembled in a private dining room at Fixe, where we feasted on Southern fare and riveting repartee. Discussing arts, books and civics were Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Dan Bullock, Barbara Chisholm Faires, Robert Faires, Pei-SanBrown, Daniel Brownand my husband, Kip Keller.
You absolutely want to be stuck with this lively group on a rainy Austin evening. Luckily, though, the skies cleared and we walked a few short blocks to the stunning new Austin Central Library for the Austin Book Awards ceremony, which benefits the Austin Public Library Foundation. This was my first social outing inside this building’s special events space. Tall and wide, it worked well enough for the foundation’s understated fundraiser.
Not unlike the First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival — but on a much smaller scale — these awards bring to the dais some of the best storytellers around. Speaking at breakneck speed, author Owen Egerton served as an especially witty and energizing emcee. The winners: Elizabeth Crook (Fiction); Varian Johnson (Young Adult Literature); and Nate Blakeslee (Nonfiction). What a group! And they were introduced by literary leaders such as Stephen Harrigan and Tim Staley.
One of the foundation’s most effective programs, Badgerdog, encourages young people to write, not just read. We heard two lovely poems from the 2018 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award Honorees, Brandee Benson and Angie Hu.
Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.
One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.
The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.
Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.
A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.
The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.
The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me.
My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I caught my breath. I’ve attended hundreds of not thousands of nonprofit benefits in Austin. This line from Luke could be included in almost any charity invocation. Because that’s what these nonprofits are doing, day in, day out, year after year. And our gratitude should be boundless.
The 30th anniversary Manos benefit got off to a chilly start because of the capricious April weather. The 90 minutes of cocktail reception took place in the windy, open-sided lobby of ACL Live. The women in short cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns went begging for wraps. This was one Texas night when a vintage fur piece came in handy.
The next hour was taken up by dinner inside the theater. Fortuitously, I ended up at a table between Denise Jones, who spent most of her life in Fort Worth, and Justin Calloway, who grew up in the Corpus Christi area. Stories about those two Texas cities easily filled up 60 merry minutes.
Gala leaders expertly handled the celebratory program. We were reminded of the humble beginnings of Manos at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood. Then as now, the group provides certain basic services — food, clothing and lessons — but Manos is best known for its amazing affordable dental program. It now runs a much larger second clinic on Harmon Avenue.
Expansion there, including a real parking lot, was made possible in part by two Lutherans, cheerful philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his equally buoyant coreligionist Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation. Good works are good works, after all.
What good fortune then to discover that Victoria Pineda is back in the auction game! Always fast, fun, witty and sweet, Pineda raced through the early part of the auction in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a full participant. Such a rare gift.
Just a few more words on “Exit Wounds,” Stephen Mills‘ unforgettable three-part Ballet Austin concert at the Long Center.
• Seventy-five minutes without an intermission was exactly right for these dark yet somehow encouraging dances. Any break would have broken the spell.
• Even if already partially seen in rehearsals, all three pieces opened up magnificently after relevant costumes, scenery and lighting were added. We might attend primarily for the undiluted dance, but every other element plays a crucial part.
• The introductory videos with voiceovers about the personal experiences that informed the dances were beautiful and informative. They also made one think how the pieces might live on without these frames.
• Maybe because it has had the longest time to gestate, but “Four Mortal Men,” set to a Debussy string quartet, seems to me the most portable and durable of the trio. Revisiting the subjects of AIDS, art and companionship in 1980s New York, Mills’ entangling choreography rarely looked so indispensable. And kudos to the four dancers for their heartbreaking interpretations.
• We squirmed in our seats during a short dance set to the famous 1982 White House press conference, as laughing correspondents joked with the Press Secretary Larry Speakes about the “gay plague” and why the President Ronald Reagan blithely ignored it. Mills himself performed in a fury downstage, but the historical audio record was almost too much to take even 36 years later.
• The third movement in “Truth Rescued by Time,” performed by the entire company, was an unqualified triumph. It really could stand alone. Everything that makes Mills’ work so timely yet timeless was reflected in the 22 artists who did not lose their individuality while performing as a living, symbolic organism.
Each year, the Girls Scouts of Central Texas judiciously selects a small group of leaders to honor as Women of Distinction. They are saluted at a brisk, dignified luncheon, this year set for noon on April 26 at the AT&T Center. I always learn a lot at this event.
Alexis Jones (Rising Star Award) is the founder of nationally recognized organizations I Am That Girl and ProtectHer. She’s an author and motivational speaker for Generation Y, and named one of AOL’s Makers alongside Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.
Nora Comstock, Ph.D., is an entrepreneur and business leader, founder of Comstock Connections and national and international founder of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, current member of Austin Community College District Board of Trustees, and member of the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
Denise Davis, J.D, is the founding partner of Davis Kaufmann PLLC, lobbyist and former Texas House of Representatives deputy parliamentarian, advisor and attorney to two Texas Lt. Governors, and chief of staff for Texas House of Representative Speaker Joe Straus.
Laura Wolf, J.D, is executive director for CASA of Travis County Inc. She developed merger between Austin Rape Crisis Center and Center for Battered Women to create SafePlace, served as former President of the Austin Junior League, and is recipient of two national awards from CASA Inc.
Amy Shaw Thomas, J.D, is vice chancellor of academic and health affairs and an executive Oofficer at the University of Texas System, board member of Downtown Austin Alliance and Texas Methodist Foundation, active member of Austin Area Research Organization, and advocate for inclusion, diversity and meritocracy.
Texas Cultural Trust, an arts advocacy group, has chosen 15 students for the 2018 class of Young Masters. Each of the promising artists receive a $10,000 scholarship over the course of two years to enhance their studies.
Two are from our fair city: Ian Stripling Jenson, an 11th grader at McCallum Fine Arts Academy, has been selected in the music category for violin, and Leif Tilton, a ninthe grader at Bowie High School, has been selected in the music category for classical guitar.
Some of the past Young Masters recipients have gone on to glory, including Austinite Charles Yang, a 2004 honoree. The Boston Globe judged that this rising soloist “plays classical violin with the charisma of a rock star.” He also happens to play guitar.
Two Austin hosts, Monica Peraza and Nina Seely, made the 2018 Salonniėre 100 list, a project that attempts to name America’s best party hosts each year. It’s an intensely researched product of the Salonniėre website, founded and edited by our city’s Carla McDonald.
Also new to the list, which spotlights honorees from 34 cities in 28 states, this year are national celebrities such as movie star Reese Witherspoon, supermodels Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum and singer-songwriter-actor Solange Knowles. Returning to the list are media mogul Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Lela Rose and interior designers Ken Fulk, Alessandra Branca and Bunny Williams.
“I am deeply honored to be recognized on this prestigious 2018 Salonniere 100 list of the best party hosts in America, among bold faced names like Reese Witherspoon and my passionate friend Monica Peraza,” says Seely, most recently of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum with its Umlauf Garden Partyand now a real estate agent. “Whether hosting friends, family or creating a community event, a great party is made possible with incredible guests, and I’m so fortunate to live in a community rich with engaging, passionate and dynamic people.”
Peraza was also pleased.
“I feel incredibly honored to be on the 2018 Salonniere 100 list,” says Peraza, incoming board captain of the Long Center for the Performing Arts and founder of the Hispanic Alliance, which stages the crucial Authentic Mexico benefit at the Long Center each fall. “Not only because I have so much respect for Carla Stanmyre McDonald but also because of the other people on the list, among them Oprah Winfrey and my friend Nina Seely.”
She put in a few words for the upcoming party.
“We have had the privilege of hosting the best chefs of Mexican cuisine, both in Mexico and the United States … and of course the best in Austin, too!” Peraza says. “Eleven chefs prepare dinner every year on Sept. 16. So far over 50 chefs have been part of the Authentic Mexico Gala, including the one and only Diana Kennedy.”
9 Core Values for First Tee
Maybe I should take up golf. Everybody at First Tee of Greater Austin, which teaches character through sport, seems so amiable. And the group’s annual 9 Core Values luncheon not only spotlights its worthy efforts, the brisk ceremony reminds us of our local heroes. (Oh yes, I just remembered my hand-to-eye coordination problem.)
This year at the Hyatt Regency Austin’s large banquet hall, emcee and golf sportscaster Fred Albers introduced Stephen “Steve” F. Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, who assured the big room that the golfing industry was stable and making strides with women, millennials and people of color. Then came the parade of honorees who embody the values that First Tee tries to imbue on youngsters.
The theme this year was — naturally — the golf community. So the Robert W. Hughes Philanthropic Leadership Award went to the three founders of the local chapter of First Tee — John Ellett, Tom Martin and Jay Watson. Following that lead were others from the local golf world.
Confidence: Paul Family, founders of Golfsmith
Courtesy: Barbara Puett, golf instructor
Honest: Tom Kite, World Golf Hall of Fame
Integrity: Ben Cresnshaw, World Golf Hall of Fame
Judgment: Mike McMahan, rules expert and friend of golf
Perseverance: Mary Arnold, community champion
Respect: Beth Clecker, manager of Morris Williams Golf Course