School Theme for Downtown Museum

June 18, 2002, 12:00 AM EDT

Lower East Side Tenement Museum's benefit dinner Ritz Carlton New York - Battery Park Thursday, 06.13.02, 6:30 PM to 10 PM
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The Lower East Side Tenement Museum—a unique New York institution—celebrated its 14th anniversary and honored public education with a delightfully fun and elegant benefit at the Ritz-Carlton New York - Battery Park. The night was a chance for the museum to play up its work with public school children while honoring education professionals Charlotte Frank, vice president of research and development for educational book publisher McGraw-Hill Education, and New York schools chancellor Harold Levy, as well as Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, vice president of Bernstein Investment Research and Management, with the museum's Urban Pioneer award.

During the cocktail hour, guests could check out a model of the Flower School, a Lower East Side industrial school that taught poor children about horticulture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Designer Pamela Keech of Curious Curators created the model (part of an installation about the school displayed at the museum last year) and also handled the event's overall decor concept, which incorporated lots of school references. Roaming costumed actors from the museum's Confino Family Program (who can appear at events through the museum's education department) portrayed a teacher and student and mingled with guests having cocktails, describing urban life more than a century ago. Even the name tags carried out the schoolroom theme: The badges were copied from an antique certificate of merit found at a flea market.

Drawing upon the education theme, Keech came up with a crafty and refreshing approach for the dinner decor, which—unlike the miniature of the Flower School—had nothing to do with flowers. Instead, the tables were dotted with a whimsical variety of centerpieces, including large green and red apples, globes, lanterns filled with chalk and others stuffed with pencils. The central table's centerpiece consisted of a three-dimensional miniature schoolhouse, complete with tiny desks and even a portrait of Lincoln. The tables were covered with black photographer's paper, and each place setting had a stick of chalk tied with black ribbon so guests could draw on the table. And instead of name cards, table settings at the places of honor had names written in chalk.

Dinner began with performances by the museum's nearby neighbor the Seward Park High School Choir and also by Phyllis Golden Hoffman, who sang the national anthem.

Echoing the miniature schoolhouse, the banquet room's presentation area had a life-size grouping of school furnishings and props (from Eclectic/Encore Props), including an old wooden teacher's desk adorned with books and flanked by wooden bookshelves, a flag stand, a chalkboard (a prop used in A Beautiful Mind)—even a portrait of George Washington. The overall effect was an original and fun take with a subtly patriotic feel—a nod to tradition and history without red, white and blue streamers and bunting.

--Mark Mavrigian

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