Special Events Blog
Lisa Hurley

Truly intelligent design: A tribute to Richard Carbotti

Lisa HurleyLast week marked the one-year anniversary of the loss of a bright light in special events, Richard Carbotti. I was proud to be part of the ceremony at The Special Event just three weeks ago for the presentation of the inaugural Richard Carbotti Gala Award, accepted by his sons Evan and Jordan—two event talents in their own right.

The Richard Carbotti award will be given annually to honor leaders who demonstrate Richard's spirit of volunteerism. Richard not only supported the event industry itself, but also the poor and downtrodden. We see this in his work with Event Pros Take Action, aiding the dispossessed in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and his longtime support of the Anthony Quinn Foundation, which advances the idea that art is essential to learning and the enrichment of the mind. (If you have thoughts of whom we should honor next year, please let me know.)

I count myself as just one of Richard's many admirers. I had only one chance to spend time with him alone—but what a time it was. I was visiting beautiful Newport, R.I., for a meeting of the ISES Rhode Island chapter, and Richard gave me a personal tour of the area's "summer cottages"—the astonishing Gilded Age mansions. Part of what made my day so much fun was Richard's sly sense of humor. When I asked him how his family had been accepted in notoriously snobbish, WASP-y Newport, he laughed. "Are you kidding?" he said. "My name ends in a vowel!"

So for me at least, the Richard Carbotti award also stands for his sense of humor. And it stands for even more: the rigorous study and discipline that he believed are essential to great event design.

Some people think a talent for design is something you're born with, like red hair. And surely it is in part a gift, but Richard demanded that event design be something more.

Events should not just be pretty. Instead, as he told me in a 2011 interview, design choices must be grounded in historical context. Richard not only studied interior design at famed design school Parsons in Manhattan but followed it up with advanced work at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, which trained him to interpret design in the commercial world.

This is the difference between design and decoration, and it is part of what gives his work such staying power.

So, next year's Carbotti Award will honor his legacy of volunteerism, humor, talent and brains. A tough act to follow, but a great inspiration to make us all try.

Photo by Nadine Froger Photography

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