By Michael O'Connell Posted May 11, 2010, 4:46 PM EDT
The Robin Hood Foundation's annual benefit, a sprawling event that covers more than 150,000 square feet of the Jacob K. Javits Center, requires a small army to design and produce. This year the organization decided to play around with the team, parting ways with David Stark in favor of three new additions. That team created a projection-filled production that hosted a record 3,600 guests, who set a record of their own by raising $87.8 million for impoverished New Yorkers.
Robin Hood managing director of events Jim Samalis and manager of events Amy Sinclair headed up the team, bringing back Live Nation producer Dan Parise, lighting designer Spike Brandt of PEDG (formerly Artfag L.L.C.), and Atomic Design. New arrivals included Alex Coletti Productions, which developed the program and performances; floral designer DeJuan Stroud, who conceived the dining area; and Peter Crawford, who was charged with finding a new way to explain the foundation's programming in the cocktail area decor.
“It's a little daunting coming on as a newbie,” Crawford said. “But the real challenge was bringing the programs into the design to give a real personal feeling of what happens to all of this money.” Robin Hood chose to explain this with six verbs—teaches, heals, feeds, nurtures, trains, and shelters—each of which was showcased in a streetscape in the cocktail area.
Crawford built replicas of buildings representing each of the verbs and worked with Robin Hood staffers to develop customized educational videos and messaging. The “Teaches” installation, for example, was highlighted by the facade of a school in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Projections of the building flashed on its blank likeness, as did videos of the classes and testimonials from students.
“When you walk in it's just buildings,” said LiveNation's Dan Parise, “but when you can see all of the things going on inside, that's the driving force behind Robin Hood.”
Fund-raising took place just as it did last year, with silent donations coming in from IML wireless devices at each seat during the dinner of classic Caesar salads and a choice of pepper-crusted beef tenderloin or roasted halibut by Glorious Food. Celebrities egged on tables to solicit more donations while friendly reminders came from the stage. NBC anchor Brian Williams served as the night's M.C., and Jimmy Fallon appeared for a brief comedy bit.
Headliner Stevie Wonder appeared toward the end of the night, when part of the dining room wall folded into the ceiling to reveal a second stage and a dance area. But he wasn't the only musician on board: Sting made a surprise appearance to kick off the program with an acoustic version of “Message in a Bottle.”