1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit
Still called the “party of the year,” this much-buzzed-about gala is attended by fashion’s biggest names, plus plenty of celebrities. Vogue’s Anna Wintour co-chairs the event each year, and Sylvana Soto-Ward, Vogue’s new event director, will oversee the May 3 benefit, which celebrates the Met’s “American Women: Fashioning a National Identity” exhibit.
2. Robin Hood Foundation Benefit
Although the Costume Institute is the biggest media draw in town, this nonprofit gala’s multimillion-dollar fund-raising take is hard to ignore. Last year’s event for nearly 4,000 guests—a mix of finance, media, and entertainment types—raised a record $72.6 million, almost all of it anonymous donations from attendees. The benefit is back at the Javits Center on May 10.
3. Whitney Museum of American Art Fall Gala
Chairs Donatella Versace, Penelope Cruz, and Liz Swig held court at the Whitney’s biggest event on October 19 last year. Bronson van Wyck produced the black-tie dinner for 500—followed by an after-party for twice as many—which honored Leonard Lauder and raised more than $2.5 million.
4. American Ballet Theatre Spring Gala
Still a high priority for the social set, the American Ballet Theatre celebrates the opening of every season with a black-tie gala. Last year, the event saw 1,050 guests inside the tent at Lincoln Center and a fund-raising total of $1.5 million. The 2010 gala is scheduled for May 17.
5. The Museum of Modern Art’s Party in the Garden
MoMA continues to reinvent its annual fund-raiser, and last May, the dinner and after-party drew upward of 1,000 high-profile names to a more casual affair marked by lower ticket prices and comfort food. With performances by Estelle and DJ Cassidy, the gala raised more than $1.8 million.
6. Frick Collection’s Young Fellows Ball
Although less influential than in past years, the museum’s ball still attracts a bevy of young art patrons. The Monique Lhuillier- and Ivanka Trump-sponsored event on February 26 drew more than 600 guests and raised more than $270,000. This year’s iteration will take place February 25.
7. The Metropolitan Opera’s Opening Night Gala
The Met opened its season with the debut of Luc Bondy’s production of Puccini’s Tosca on September 21, an event attended by patrons such as Martha Stewart and Barry Diller. Continuing a tradition started in 2006, the performance was also relayed live to outdoor screens in Times Square and Josie Robertson Plaza.
8. New York Public Library Lions Benefit
Guests of affluence and influence attend the literary institution’s November gala, which in 2009 honored five distinguished individuals, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and Eloise illustrator Hilary Knight. The evening netted nearly $3 million for the library’s acquisition budget.
9. Central Park Conservancy’s Frederick Law Olmsted Award Luncheon
A sea of ladies in elaborate hats marks this spring fund-raiser hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. Bette Midler and Evelyn Lauder were among the 1,200 guests at last year’s luncheon, which raised $2.1 million for the park. The event is slated to return May 5.
10. Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Spring Gala
Introduced in 2008 as a replacement for its Awards for Excellence gala, the society’s dinner-dance last year drew nearly $1 million and a mix of names, including Robert De Niro, LL Cool J, and Kathy Lee Gifford. The ball returns on May 18 and will move from the Plaza to the Pierre.
11. The New York Botanical Garden’s Conservancy Ball
More than 600 guests attend this Bronx black-tie ball, which will close out the spring gala season on June 3. Last year’s Cartier-sponsored soiree brought Barbara Tober, Sigourney Weaver, and other philanthropists to the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
12. Friends of the High Line Benefit
Championed by the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Edward Norton, this grassroots organization’s event has risen through the ranks of important benefits. Last year, its ninth gala toasted the long-awaited opening of the High Line with about 1,000 supporters. The event raised more than $2 million.
13. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s Kids for Kids Benefit
Following a stint at the Park Avenue Armory in 2008, last year’s family carnival moved back to the West Village’s Industria Superstudio on October 24. Smaller than the previous year, the event was attended by nearly 1,000 guests and raised about $1.5 million for the 20-year-old H.I.V. treatment and prevention organization.
14. Winter Antiques Show Opening Night Gala
This widely respected antique fair opens every show with a benefit party for the East Side House Settlement and last year welcomed about 2,500 guests to the Park Avenue Armory. Bank of America’s president of global wealth and investment management, Sallie Krawcheck, will chair the 2010 event, scheduled for January 21.
15. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Opening Gala
Marking Judith Jamison’s 20th year as the artistic director of the modern dance organization, Alvin Ailey’s December 2 event included a performance at New York City Center and dinner at the Hilton New York’s grand ballroom. Denzel and Pauletta Washington were the gala’s honored guests and co-chairs.
16. New York City Ballet Opening Night Benefit
The November 24 gala, the company’s first performance in the newly renovated David H. Koch Theater, launched the ballet’s yearlong retrospective repertory in honor of Lincoln Center’s 50th anniversary. In 2008, the event raised $1.26 million.
17. Breast Cancer Research Foundation Benefit
At the nonprofit’s 2009 spring fund-raiser, dubbed the “Hot Pink Party,” Liza Minnelli performed alongside Elton John. More than 750 supporters turned out for the event, which raised nearly $3.7 million. The benefit returns to the Waldorf-Astoria on April 27.
18. New York City Opera’s Spring Gala
Due to construction, last year’s gala was put on hiatus and the organization’s biggest event was the reopening celebration on November 5. Honoring benefactor David H. Koch, the evening was attended by 675 guests and raised $2.3 million. The spring benefit is scheduled to return in March.
19. Museum of the City of New York’s Director’s Council Winter Ball
An influential crowd of New York’s social set gathers at the Upper East Side museum every March for this gala. Last year, sponsor Versace dressed some of the 600 guests, including Meredith Melling Burke and Celerie Kemble, and the event raised $470,000.