Smithsonian Sets Reasonable Ticket Prices to Make Artrageous Benefit "Recession Proof"

For its fourth annual "Artrageous" benefit the Smithsonian Museum of American Art looked to a recent acquisition for inspiration.

By Danielle O'Steen March 2, 2009, 12:00 PM EST

The "Artrageous" benefit at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

Artragious Benefit Smithsonian Museum of American Art
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For its fourth annual “Artrageous” benefit on Thursday night in the Kogod Courtyard, the Smithsonian American Art Museum paid tribute to Roy Lichtenstein’s 30-foot-tall sculpture “Modern Head”—a deep-blue outdoor sculpture currently on view on the SAAM grounds. “We are looking to our new neighborhood landmark, and using cobalt-blue colors everywhere,” said the museum’s special events manager, Emily Chamberlin.

Blue hues swathed the museum’s exterior and the courtyard’s interior, blanketing everything from the lighting to the centerpieces to the linens. To make sure guests knew the artwork of honor, a 25-foot-tall projection of “Modern Head” showed on stretched spandex against one wall. “We realized that there was no art in the space and we wanted to remind people that they were in an art museum,” said Chamberlin. Another focal point: a six-foot-in-diameter helium balloon, decked with the “Artrageous” logo, that floated in the center of the room. “We are trying to do things on a grander scale to fit the venue better,” she said, referring to the courtyard’s debut in November 2007. “We have learned that you need to go big in this space.”    

To match the blue up-lighting, Chamberlin used circular blue glow tables for the buffet from Occasions. Plates offered corn soufflé, shrimp-and-tomato bisque with shrimp toasts, and beef short ribs, and a separate table included a cheese tasting station. Instead of the traditional floral arrangements on each table, Chamberlin worked with Fandango to create abstract neon light and blue blossom structures, which became part sculpture and part centerpiece—matching the blue-glowing ice cubes in guests’ drinks.  

Between the buffet tables, several all-white leather, Le Corbusier-style chairs and sofas surrounded white modern coffee tables atop shag carpets. Clusters of blue linen-topped tables matched with Chivari chairs offered additional seating around the edge of the courtyard. Within the first half hour of the event, the space was full. Although most galas in the city have seen a drop in attendance, “Artrageous” kept the same 500-guest count from last year. “At $125 a ticket, our event is quite reasonable in this town,” said Chamberlin. “We price it that way to bring in a younger crowd and to appeal to a new audience and it makes us almost recession-proof.”  

After a set from Jacques Johnson and Friends, the museum presented awards to the patrons responsible for bringing the sculpture to the museum, including the artist’s wife Dorothy Lichtenstein. Smithsonian head G. Wayne Clough thanked museum patrons Sam Rose and Julie Walters, and after recounting how Elvis Presley sang at their wedding, an Elvis impersonator serenaded them. Following remarks, ‘Round Midnight took over the music, and guests headed for dessert, which included a gelato station (featuring flavors such as pear and toasted almond), plates of French macaroons, and cookies painted with an image of Lichtenstein’s big blue head.

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