The Whitney Museum of American Art celebrated the groundbreaking for its new Renzo Piano-designed, 200,000-square-foot location with a flurry of events in the meatpacking district in late May. Whitney director of special events Gina Rogak and senior manager of special events Rachel Arteaga oversaw the many moving parts, from the American Art Award dinner and groundbreaking gala on May 19 and a community outreach day on May 21, to the stable of events on May 24, including the actual groundbreaking, a lunch at the Standard, and the Art Party evening benefit.
“We were trying to make a statement that this is a very important turning point for the Whitney after years of trying to get this shovel in the ground,” Rogak said. “We finally got to the point where we could do that, and we wanted to celebrate in as many ways as possible, and be as inclusive as possible, bringing in our younger supporters, our older supporters, our corporate members, and the community. We wanted to get everybody behind this occasion.”
The 20th annual American Art Award cocktail party and dinner took place in two tents from Stamford on the site of the new museum—it should be noted that last year's dinner was held in a tent downtown, too, but the location was adjacent to the museum site, whereas this year's tent was exactly where the museum will live.
Arteaga worked with Tina Malhotra at MKG to produce the event for 400 corporate members, trustees, vendors, and benefactors, and one didn't have to look far to be reminded of the evening's purpose. “The entire decor was informed by the groundbreaking,” she said. “We had shovels hanging from the ceiling, construction material in the centerpieces.” The evening wrapped with a performance by Debbie Harry.
A few days later the Art Party, this year subtitled “The Groundbreakers,” took over the Highline Stages space and eked out an industrial vibe via scaffolding wrapped in foliage, giant theatrical lights lining the front room, old brown medicine-bottle chandeliers, and a 32-foot bar made from reclaimed wood planks. “We really wanted it to feel as if you were discovering something, like the first time you walked into the Beatrice or the Ace Hotel,” said Van Wyck & Van Wyck's Bronson van Wyck, who produced the event with David Hawryluk. “It was meant to be authentic, a space where you'd be hanging out with artists—half of the people there were artists.”
In all, the Art Award dinner reeled in $2 million, and the Art Party brought in $400,000, which will help fund the $720 million museum project, $508 million has already been raised.
Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that senior manager of special events Rachel Arteaga also oversaw the Whitney events, and worked on the American Art Award dinner.