It is always a bad sign when you are at a big event with klieg lights, valet parking, A-list talent, security, ball gowns, and hundreds if not thousands of guests, and yet find yourself asking, Why am I here?
But that was the disappointing question that could not be answered at the Green Inaugural Ball on Saturday at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium.
For the life of me I can’t figure out what Discovery Communications’ new Planet Green channel, which seemed to be the main sponsor, got out of it. (I never saw a single logo at the event or visual on the giant screen that hinted at its involvement until I could finally access the eco-friendly/Mac-unfriendly media kit chip.) I feel badly for them.
This was not the Green Ball hosted by Al Gore, which is tonight. This one was produced by Event Emissary, a company that has the exclusive license to host events at the Mellon, a beautiful circa-1930's Classical revival building, granted by the General Services Administration of the U.S. Government, which supervises the National Mall. The wisdom of granting use of this public treasure to what appeared to be a bold publicity grab by a license-holder seemed to me a misuse of national resources and begs the question. Who signed off on this doozy?
Since it wasn’t clear to me what this event was all about, I was obligated to read nearly every word of the self-promoting media chip that Event Emissary furnished. I guess you would say that this event was designed to foster the idea that events can be green and good and not mess up the environment and that these guys are the best at doing it.
But the proof of the pudding is in eating it, and the documents—well, it all just seemed like pablum.
In addition to using carbon credits, Event Emissary is composting its food leftovers, although so is the Willard, where they are serving thousands of meals and it is part of their daily operation.
During a briefing from an Event Emissary staff member, I was told that for the few items that were not recyclable, they were “Getting those things to make it green.” Things? “I don’t really remember what they are called but…” Was she speaking of carbon credits? Yes, that sounded right to her. Those things. I asked about the bar-height-drop tablecloths that were green, mais bien sur, and not all the way to the ground, which this reporter usually finds to be a mistake. Are they hemp? Repurposed from other fabric? Shorter to save material? “I don’t know. You would have to ask Jenna.” Jenna Mack and Stephanie Campbell are the founders of Event Emissary, to whom I placed about five calls today and received none in return.
Did I mention that after being handed the media chip at the greeting table—“We don’t want to waste paper”—I asked when the charismatic Haitian-American hero Wyclef Jean was performing, only to be handed a printed schedule?
Also: They use energy efficient LED lighting, just like every other lighting company I’ve written about in the last few months, and there have been a few. The lighting design was quite pretty, I must say.
Other event highlights:
Metal detectors for guests (but press with their big camera bags were allowed to walk around a table).
Child celebrity Hayden Panettiere was on-hand, explaining that she came to this Green Ball because the other one wasn’t allowing guests under 21, natch.
There was one tiny but authentic and truly inspiring element: the recycled art/fashions created by Santa Fe, New Mexico, artist and Obama precinct 405 organizer Nancy Judd. Determined to both capture history and prevent waste, the day after the election she went dumpster-diving with a nice homeless man and grabbed lawn signs, door hangers, and voter registrations cards. Out of these she made two magnificent works, an “Obamanos” coat and a dress. The Obamanos coat is made of thousands of painstakingly assembled bits of door hangers.
She put a tiny picture of John McCain in the armpit. “But I mean him no disrespect,” she said. Why not include Sarah Palin in her coat of many colors? “Well, I guess I’m not a fan of Sarah Palin,” Nancy told me, exhausted from single-handedly staging her mini-fashion show. She funded her trip and efforts by selling bags made from recycled Obama lawn signs, and credited the name of the Recycled Runway organization that trains workers in material repurposing of crafts. She’s a peach, this Nancy, also a teacher, and a few of her bags are still on sale (visit www.recycledrunway.com). She was not paid any money by the event.
More from the inauguration later.