By Jenny Berg Posted June 1, 2009, 4:30 PM EDT
CHICAGO Saturday night's Paintbrush Ball raised funds for Marwen, a nonprofit organization that provides free art classes, college planning, and career prep for students in grades six through 12. Taking place in two side-by-side tents that spanned the River North art school's parking lot, the event included dinner, live and silent auctions, and staggered art-making stations that allowed guests to participate in everything from graffiti to sculpture and video mixing.
According to Amelia Styer, Marwen's special events manager, the arty atmosphere was intended to remind guests of the evening's cause. “A lot of feedback we've received over the years is that people will come and have a great time, and then leave and not quite know what they've just supported,” she said. ”So our No. 1 mission this year was that everyone would leave with [Marwen's purpose] in mind.”
The benefit's creative design sponsor, design and architecture firm Gensler, helped develop the intended atmosphere. (One of the firm's design principals, Carlos Martinez, sits on Marwen's board of directors.) “Our goal,“ said Gensler rep Todd Heiser, “was for people to walk out of the tent on Saturday night and really understand the quality of art that comes out of Marwen."
Toward that end, the firm strung student drawings from the ceiling and walls of the cocktail tent, and topped dinner tables with Lucite cubes embedded with photographs and drawings from the school's students and teachers. Gensler also consulted with Marwen staffers on the activity stations: “We wanted to focus on art-making that was very graphic in nature, and make those stations venues within the event,” Heiser said. ”There's a certain magic in being able to go to an artist's studio and watch them create art, and that's the vibe we wanted to create in the space. The idea was to tie donors very closely to the art making.”
The activities proved popular, with cocktail-attired guests busily cutting up poster board, posing for digital pictures, and spray-painting a paper graffiti wall before dinner began. Styer said the ball's art-studio vibe was inspired by the economic climate. “Because of the stress and pressures of the situation that we're in,“ she said, “we really tried to set ourself apart from other galas this year. And now, more than ever, we really want guests to know where their money is going and what they're supporting, and leave them with a connection to the organization."
Correction: The text has been updated to properly describe Marwen's connection with Gensler.