Washington's Top Arts & Entertainment Events 2008

By Brendan Spiegel September 26, 2008, 1:42 PM EDT

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange performed in the National Building Museum as part of the Capital Fringe Festival.

Photo: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival

1. Kennedy Center Honors
Steve Martin, Martin Scorsese, Diana Ross, former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and pianist Leon Fleisher were honored with awards for artistic achievement at this black-tie gala in December 2007. Traditionally attended by the president and first lady, the gala is broadcast on CBS, and Restaurant Associates caters the dinner. Independent event producer Carolyn Peachy of Campbell, Peachy & Associates is planning this year’s December 7 event with co-chairs Buffy Cafritz and Ann Jordan. 

2. Ford’s Theatre Annual Gala
The historic theater has been under renovation for most of 2008, so the 28th annual gala was temporarily relocated to the National Theatre this June. The gala featured performances by Tricia Yearwood, Clay Aiken, and Hal Holbrook. The president and first lady were among the 575 attendees, and Lincoln Medals were awarded to Maya Angelou and actress Ruby Dee. Produced by the theater’s associate director of development and special events, Jennifer Kiefer, the gala will return to Ford’s in June.

3. SilverDocs Film Festival
One of the nation’s largest documentary film festivals comes to the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, each June. This year’s sixth annual festival expanded to eight days, 21,000 attendees, and more than 100 film screenings and panels, including the Charles Guggenheim Symposium, which honored director Spike Lee, and the opening-night party, held at the nearby Discovery Channel headquarters. Festival director Patricia Finneran oversaw the event with director of programming Sky Sitney and Discovery Communications director of global events Elika Hemphill.

4. National Design Awards Luncheon
The National Design Awards are selected by committee and presented at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. As a prelude to the fall ceremony, honorees are feted at an annual luncheon with the first lady in the White House. The June 14 event welcomed 150 guests, including industrial designer Charles Harrison, fashion designer Ralph Rucci, and Seattle architect Tom Kundig. Jodi Imburgia, director of the National Design Awards, planned the event, with food and decor organized by the Office of the First Lady.

5. Virgin Mobile Festival
This massive music festival has quickly become one of the summer’s biggest concert events, bringing in 74,000 fans in 2007. The 3rd annual festival, held this year at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on August 9 and 10, included big-name acts like Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters, Wilco, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Nine Inch Nails. The concert is produced by Seth Hurwitz of Bethesda, Maryland-based I.M.P., a concert promotion and event production company. The Virgin Festival will return to Pimlico next summer.

6. BET Honors Awards Ceremony
On January 7 the Warner Theatre hosted the first BET Honors, a celebration of black achievement. Cedric the Entertainer served as M.C., and honorees included Alicia Keys, Tyra Banks, and Cornel West. BET executive vice president of entertainment programming, music, and talent Stephen Hill produced the show with vice president of specials Lynne Harris Taylor and John Cossette of John Cossette Productions. Independent event producer André Wells handled a pre-ceremony V.I.P. dinner at Halcyon House and an after-party at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Because BET is planning a presidential inaugural event for January, the 2009 awards have been postponed until December.

7. Will on the Hill 
Members of Congress and D.C. bigwigs have a role to play at this annual fund-raiser for the Shakespeare Theatre Company at the Harman Center for the Arts. Some 300 guests turned out for the May 5 production of A Comedy of Capital Errors, starring Senator Patrick Leahy and Capitol File publisher Susan Nixon. Joanne Coutts, the theater’s associate director of special events, plans the event with artistic director Michael Kahn. The production is scheduled to return on May 4. 

8. Artomatic
This monthlong multimedia arts exhibition began in 1999 and has gradually expanded into one of Washington’s largest art events. The May 9 to June 15 run saw a record 52,000 visitors. Artomatic president Veronica Szalus led a large team of volunteers in converting 225,000 square feet at the Capitol Plaza building into a 10-floor art extravaganza, with 1,540 artists contributing everything from music and film to poetry, burlesque, and fire dancing. Artomatic will return in the spring.

9. FilmFest DC
The District’s largest film festival brought in 25,000 fans this year, when it showcased independent and foreign films at eight locations around town, including the National Gallery of Art and the French Embassy. Anthony Gittens of the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities serves as the director of the festival, which returns April 16 to 26.

10. Capital Fringe Festival
The July outing of D.C.’s quirkiest festival featured 649 performances at 20 different venues, bringing in more than 9,000 attendees. Executive director Julianne Brienza oversaw the event, which included a “sci-fi rock ’n’ roll musical” at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room. The fourth annual Fringe Festival will take place July 9 to 26.

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