The National Geographic Society hosted its first Evening of Exploration gala on Thursday night at its Dupont-area campus. More than 400 people, including actor Chevy Chase, director and honoree James Cameron, and singer Jack Johnson, attended the benefit to toast the newest explorers supported by the organization as part of its Emerging Explorers program, and to recognize seasoned explorers from around the world.
The benefit came on the tail end of a two-day symposium for scientific explorers hosted by National Geographic. “We have these amazing young explorers and some big glitzy ones as well [here for the symposium], so why not take it as an opportunity to put people together with them and raise the money to support the [Emerging Explorers] program?” said Jacquie Hollister, senior vice president of development for the society.
The night began with a cocktail reception in the property’s courtyard followed by dinner in a nearby large meeting room. Syzygy Event Productions designed the underwater-themed dining area, inspired by the August 2010 cover of National Geographic. The team used a mix of round, square, and rectangular tables, above which they suspended panels of sheer aqua, green, blue, gold, and coral-color drape to look like seaweed. Edge Floral Event Designs created coral-like trees adorned with flowers and seashells to emerge from cutouts within the center of many tables. Other table arrangements included a variety of tropical floral and plant elements. Syzygy’s wall-to-wall projection screens with underwater video footage completed the ocean-inspired room.
Washington chef Barton Seaver, a member of the National Geographic fellows and sustainable seafood chef and author, created a three-course sustainable menu, which Design Cuisine Caterers executed, paired with wines from Iron Horse Vineyards. “[The menu] is part of National Geographic’s mission to educate, and this was the perfect opportunity to let the night’s guests know about their food and what their eating,” said Mary Ann Mills, founder and principal of event planning firm Gardner Mills Group L.L.C., which coordinated the evening.
Wolf Blitzer, host of CNN’s The Situation Room, served as M.C., introducing the night’s presenters and award winners. The society presented its Chairman's Award, which has been given at other fund-raising events in the past, to I.B.M. for its support of the organization's exploration programs. National Geographic also presented two new awards at the gala to explorers Kenny Broad and Wes Skiles, the latter of whom’s wife accepted on behalf of her deceased husband, for Explorer of the Year, and to Jack Johnson as the Arts Ambassador for the Environment. Johnson closed the night with a four-song set.