How One Nonprofit Turned Its Benefit Into a 24-Hour Party

Art nonprofit Creative Time split its fall benefit into two parties, bringing supporters to New York's NeueHouse for a sleepover and late-night party filled with experiences and activities.

By Anna Sekula December 30, 2014, 5:05 PM EST

NeueHouse's Gallery Steps served as a natural gathering point at both events. Decor for the area, which faced the stage, included pillows marked with the names of sponsors and an illuminated, clock-like logo for the Fall Ball.

Photo: Luis Ruiz for NeueHouse

Creative Time's Fall Ball
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Fall galas are typically seated affairs, charity events that more often than not include a plated meal, remarks made on stage, and a silent auction. For its Fall Ball, the art nonprofit Creative Time chose a different direction and turned its affair into two separate, consecutive celebrations: a sleepover followed by a late-night dance party. Described as a 24-hour slumber party and sponsored by Artnet and Absolut Elyx, the benefit on November 21 and 22 brought supporters to NeueHouse and filled the Gramercy Park venue with experiences, installations, and activities.

“The Fall Ball is still a fairly new event for Creative Time—this year was our fifth iteration,” said Ashley Chavis, Creative Time's manager of membership and events. “Fall Ball 2012 was canceled due to [Hurricane] Sandy, but last year Creative Time had a smash-hit Brooklyn dance party. In 2009 we threw an extremely fun sleepover-theme party at the Ace Hotel; when we were offered the opportunity to work with the unique space at NeueHouse, it was our chance to combine for a best-of.” The unique approach also fit the identity of the nonprofit and its supporters. “The Creative Time audience is very diverse, all ages and backgrounds, educated and accustomed to the bold and unexpected—such as 40-foot sugar sculptures—from Creative Time's public art commissions,” Chavis said.

To execute the two-part event, Creative Time collaborated with BMF Media, which had produced the organization's spring gala. Key to the ball's concept was enlisting artists and performers to create interactive activities and experiences that could be spread throughout the 12-hour sleepover and during the dance party the following night. “There were three actions we made sure to hit: experience, participate, and consume,” Chavis said. The production team looked to turn that directive—and the work of more than 40 participating artists—into a cohesive environment that made use of the multiple spaces within NeueHouse.

“My thoughts went immediately to the idea of a 'night in the museum,' being in a place that you are not supposed to be, doing things you are not supposed to do, sneaking around the mansion of your rich friend's parents after they went to bed,” said Nicky Balestrieri, BMF Media's managing creative director, who also worked with host committee chair Jon Neidich. “We wanted this sense of discovery and naughtiness, which was compounded by the delirium staying up that long can create. That and lots of yummy Absolut cocktails.”

From a logistical standpoint, one of the ball's challenges was scheduling the experiences, while also encouraging guests to explore the different offerings. “We timed them all like one big show, so something new was happening almost every hour in every section of the space,” Balestrieri said. Also complicating matters was the fact that the NeueHouse, a work collective, was open to its members on November 22, meaning the organizers had to clean up and put the furniture back in its normal arrangement as the sleepover was winding down. The team then returned in the evening to set up the second party.

Separating the ball into two parts was a gamble, but Chavis said the format worked. “We realize that having a party that lasts so long is asking a lot of the audience, not to mention the staff. Not knowing if those who came for the slumber party would come back for the dance party was a risk, but many of them did. The dance party was a great 'second wind' with Absolut, Ouija boards, Wii challenges, and fantastic DJs that kept the dance floor full all night.”

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