For many nonprofits, hosting one fund-raiser is challenging enough, especially when dealing with limited resources and a small budget. But this year the Whitney Museum of American Art opted to hold two events on consecutive nights in New York and used the same venue—and some of the same decor—to save costs. That meant the gala for the American Art Award at Highline Stages on May 7 was followed the next night by the art institution's annual Art Party. Adding to the challenge was maintaining each affair's distinct identity—the gala, a seated affair with three honorees this year, and the reception-style art auction hosted by the Whitney's young patron group, the Whitney Contemporaries.
“The intent behind using Highline Stages for these back-to-back, large-scale fund-raising events was to take advantage of economies of scale. By using the same vendors for the two evenings, we were able to reduce cost through shared vendor management,” said Peter Henderson, the Whitney's senior manager of special events, who worked alongside special events director Gina Rogak and Mo Kim, senior manager of special events, as well as Ali Bono, Irene Koo, and Andrew Wojtek. “In practical terms, having Union Square Events, Bentley Meeker Lighting and Staging, Ron Wendt Design, and Party Rental perform a single load in, set up, strike, and load out, it meant that we'd only be charged once for those services rather than twice.”
To maintain brand separation between the two fund-raisers, the event team worked with Ron Wendt to fashion a look that served both, but wouldn't feel half-hearted or irrelevant. For the American Art Award gala, the team chose a Pop Art theme—a nod to honorees Dorothy Lichtenstein, the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, and the Maramotti family—drawing on the color palette used by Roy Lichtenstein and key visuals from Andy Warhol's factory studio. Linens in primary colors clothed the tables, tin foil covered the walls, and fruit-filled bowls served as centerpieces. A whitewashed brick wall became a projection screen for a documentary on Lichtenstein and Warhol that played during the gala's performance and a display of the Art Party's auction items on an opposite wall gave guests a chance to preview the pieces by young artists.
The next night, the foil walls and auction display remained in place, while the dinner chairs and tables were swapped out with mid-century modern lounge furniture, and the producers added bars, arrangements of white peonies, and highboy tables covered in silver linens. The silver-and-white color scheme matched sponsor Max Mara's clean and luxe aesthetic, and the more open layout made the auction the central focus.
“The Art Party is anything but traditional. It is a big party with a large guest count, and we needed a way to make the silent auction prevalent throughout the space,” said the Whitney's Mo Kim. With auction bids being made through online platform Artsy, organizers looked to add energy by projecting a live feed of bidding activity on the same wall the showed the documentary the first night.
Even with as few changes as possible, the team still had to coordinate with every company involved in the events. “We worked very closely with all the vendors and, with the incalculable help from Highline Stages, we were able to make what would normally have been a marathon of overnight activity into a well-balanced schedule over three days,” Henderson said. “At times it felt like a busy day at J.F.K. with on-time take-offs and arrivals!”
Wendt himself said the back-to-back events were “an exciting challenge,” noting that it was “an opportunity to be creative and do something a little less ordinary and expected. [The Whitney isn't] afraid to take chances.”