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WASHINGTON, D.C. The Human Rights Campaign's National Dinner is a big event—big cause, big speakers, big entertainment, big guest list, and big venue.
About 3,500 people attended the 18th annual dinner October 25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center where former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker, Elton John spoke, and the evening closed with a performance by Jennifer Hudson.
To match the scale of the dinner, event designer and general contractor Hargrove fashioned big experiences for guests throughout the 150,300-square-foot event floorplan. The evening's theme was “Evolve,” and Hargrove created decor that changed based on the viewer's perspective—mirroring the shifts in thinking about equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Hargrove also wanted to honor how the evening itself has evolved into the major event it has become today.
“We tried to make it this immersive experience,” said Ron Nicynski, senior account executive at Hargrove. “Depending on where you were standing or going in the event, the experience changed.”
After arriving at the convention center, guests entered the event through a white tunnel—“It almost cleanses you of what you've seen,” Nicynski said—and at the end was a square entryway framed in the campaign's signature blue and yellow colors with the word “evolve” in large letters atop it.
From there, guests entered the “sponsor experience,” a room dedicated to thanking sponsors such as Wells Fargo, Apple, Citi, and others. A chandelier that looked like abstract art or a collection of yellow lines came into focus and spelled out “thank you” when viewed from a certain angle.
Moving into the silent auction and reception area, eyes were drawn upward to two large white cubes made from vertical slats of Coroplast. The word “evolve” came into focus in the cube design, another visual trick designed to direct guests to those areas, ideally boosting participation in the silent auctions.
Another surprise was the reveal of the dining area, which was concealed by 30-foot-high white drapes.
“If this was your first year, you would have no idea where the actual dinner was,” Nicynski said. “At some point during the reception, we reveal a massive 4,000-person dining room that you wouldn't know was on the other side. It was about surprising the guests.”
“It changes every year,” he added. “You never quite know what the experience is going to be.”