Sleek, Silver-Toned Kennedy Center Gala Draws Michelle Obama, Raises Nearly as Much as Last Year

For its dinner and performances celebrating women in the arts, the Kennedy Center transformed spaces on two levels with sleek silver-toned decor, spring flowers, and swirling projections.

By Adele Chapin May 5, 2009, 1:19 PM EDT

A dining room at the Kennedy Center's spring gala

Photo: Joseph Allen

More than 1,100 guests gathered Sunday to celebrate women in the arts at the Kennedy Center spring gala, which drew a mix of artists from across genres, including photographer Annie Leibovitz, country singer LeAnn Rimes, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, violinist Midori, Broadway legend Chita Rivera, and singer K.D. Lang.

To fete these stars, the Kennedy Center threw a three-part party, starting with a cocktail reception in the grand foyer beginning at 5 p.m., followed by a sit-down dinner and 90-minute performance, with dancing and dessert afterward at the ”‘Till Midnight Party.” The event raised $2.4 million (near equal to last year) with ticket prices starting at $1,000 and tables ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

A sleek look in a silver palette marked the evening’s decor, with bursts of color from spring flowers in bright pinks and purples. In the three dining rooms on the center's upper level, bright floral arrangements and sheer fabric columns, each illuminated in purple, were the focal points.

“Because our space is so unadorned it allows us to make it what we want it to be. We treat it as a black box space,” said Leslie Miller, director of special events, who leans on her coworkers to help produce the gala. “We’re really lucky. Every department of the Kennedy Center plays a role in the event, so I have fantastic support.” 

After the dinner of crab salad and seared organic chicken breast, guests walked downstairs to the concert hall to watch the evening’s showcased artists. The crowd buzzed about Paris Hilton’s appearance at dinner, but the real guest of honor was Michelle Obama, who watched the show from the President’s Box and received shout-outs from the evening’s performers, including composer Joan Tower and Lily Tomlin, who called Obama an “iconic wonder woman.”  

After watching the evening’s performances, including a hoarse but stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Patti LaBelle, guests traveled back upstairs to the Roof Terrace Restaurant for the after-party. During the performance, the Kennedy Center’s team removed dinner tables from the South Foyer, adding leather couches and a dessert bar decked with red velvet cupcakes, macaroons, and strawberry shortcakes. Guests could hit the dance floor to music from the band Sound Connection, have a drink outside on the rooftop terrace despite the misty weather, or head home with their gift bags, which included a silver picture frame donated by premier sponsor Boeing.

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