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Events Worth Exalting

A look at the 2023 Gala Award finalists and the inspiring award ceremony

Each year, Special Events magazine receives entries from event designers and producers across the globe, detailing their most spectacular events of the year in hopes of being bestowed a coveted Gala Award.

The Gala awards honor events in a variety of categories such as “Best Entertainment,” “Best Fundraising or Nonprofit Event,” and “Designer of the Year.” This year’s award ceremony was celebrated in March as part of Catersource + The Special Event, in conjunction with Catersource’s ACE awards and ICA’s CATIE awards. The evening began with a cocktail reception for nominees and was kicked off by a spectacular performance by Metropolis Productions.

Veteran planner Michael Cerbelli (president & CEO, Cerbelli Creative) opened the affair with a short keynote speech, and then: the moment everyone was waiting for—the naming of the 2023 award recipients.

Let’s take a look at last year's inspirational event designs.

PS: Keep your eyes open for the 2024 nominees, which we will feature in our Winter Issue, as well as celebrate in Austin, TX on Thursday, February 15, 2024 at this year's Catersource + The Special Event!

Industry veteran and 2023 Special Events Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Cerbelli (Cerbelli Creative) kicked off the event with a keynote address. Photo courtesy WASIO Faces/SpotMyPhotos

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Metropolis Productions put on a dazzling opening act to hype up the crowd at this year’s ACE, Gala, and CATIE award ceremony in Orlando. Photo courtesy WASIO Faces/SpotMyPhotos

Best Entertainment: insglück, “Unlimited Space”

Insglück dazzled the audience at the Kazakhstan exhibit at the World Expo 2022 by making an automotive robot interact with a human counterpart in real time. They made sure there was precise synchronization and a seamless connection to the media, programming a robotic hand to an interface. In a 270-degree immersive simulation, the audience joined this imaginary science fiction world and watched as the robot and human danced together, exploring the theme of human and AI collaboration.

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The Main Show performance consisted of a high-tech show and an acrobatic interaction with a KUKA KR 240, showing the synergy between a human and a robot. Photo courtesy Andreas Keller

Best Event for a Private Individual: Star Trax Events, “Take Over The Night”

How do you come up with a new, unusual, and exciting Mitzvah, when clients attend the same celebrations throughout the year for their friends and family? Star Trax Events did just that by incorporating the Bar Mitzvah boy into the custom content throughout the evening: a green screen video shoot honoring him, a kid’s soda bar with custom Jones soda bottles, highlighted initials with different sayings and neon signage, a custom 3-D photo backdrop, and custom menus.

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Many aspects of the “Take Over The Night” Bar Mitzvah were customized to create a theme around the honoree, like these soda bottles featuring his photo. Photo courtesy Justin Munter Photography

Best Event Produced for a Corporation or Association: Lenny Talarico Events and Cerbelli Creative, “The INTREPID Celebration”

Hosting a reception for 2,200 employees on a museum/event venue WW2 aircraft carrier in New York comes with its fair share of challenges, but that didn’t stop Lenny Talarico Events and Cerbelli Creative from planning a spectacular event. The two teams (who met at The Special Event years ago!) collaborated to create the Spanish insurance company MAPFRE’s 50th annual incentive event on the historic Intrepid landmark, using a “100 Years of New York” theme to celebrate the decades.

The celebrated decades went back to the 1920s, where atmosphere talent dressed as flappers and bootleggers greeted guests. Photo courtesy Ivan Piedra

Best Fundraising or Non-Profit Event: Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, “La Dolce Vita”

Known for their well-produced themes, this year’s fundraiser was themed “La Dolce Vita” and mimicked the cozy atmosphere of a small Italian village to create a sense of connection and warmth among attendees. This was created through details including: a 14-foot sprawling tree above the dining tables to emulate an Italian garden; a “House of Gucci” activation where a fashion illustrator drew custom sketches for attendees; a café with an espresso bar and gelato; a three-wheeled Piaggio Ape Van imported from Italy that acted as a mobile wine-and-bubbles bar; a 24-foot charcuterie table; living Renaissance-style statues; and a wine raffle. Peace Arch Hospital Foundation raised well over $900,000—a success for all! 

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Attendees of “La Dolce Vita” were greeted by a chef station serving risotto from a giant parmesan wheel. Photo courtesy Brian Dennehy

Best Multiple-Day Event Program for a Corporation or Association: Steve Levine Entertainment, “Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival 2022"

Steve Levine Entertainment (SLE) expanded this annual festival to be two weekends instead of one, allowing for a jam-packed entertainment lineup with well-loved artists. SLE also made the transition to using radio-frequency identification (RFID) wristbands to create a fully integrated cashless event for the first time. The new tech came with its fair share of issues, but SLE managed to troubleshoot successfully, and the implementation of the RFID wristbands resulted in an increase in sales and in-depth attendee demographics. After cancelling the 2020 event, the festival came back stronger than ever in 2022.

The fairgrounds were crowded with people excited to come back after the pandemic pause, making it the largest-scale event that the Steve Levine Entertainment team has ever produced. Photo courtesy @oakimagery

Most Outstanding Spectacle, Fair, or Festival: insglück, “Gateway to Tomorrow”

The Kazakhstan Pavilion: Gateway to Tomorrow, built using lightweight construction and the use of composite building materials and nearly 100% recyclable steel, took World Expo guests through a tour of Kazakhstan’s past, present, and future, each featured on a different level. This included the “Great Steppe” grasslands of the past, mixed media presentations of modern-day Kazakhstan, and a spaceship-like future area featuring a robotics main show (which received the above Gala Award for Best Entertainment).

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The lower main area represented Kazakhstan’s past and featured a multi-sensory installation showcasing the country’s rich natural environments, biodiversity, and cultural heritage. Photo courtesy Andreas Keller

Best Wedding: Jaclyn Watson Events, “Green Envy” 

The Jaclyn Watson Events (JWE) team created a beautiful wedding whose color scheme mirrored the Vermont landscape where it took place. Various shades and textures, along with accents of gold and light purple, blended with the property’s deep greens and stone greys. Florals were a focus for this look, with soft white chiffon draping and unique white branch chandeliers adorning the dreamy tent ceiling. The tabletop setting included matte grey plates and gold flatware, green carousel glassware, and custom sage green menus tucked in light linen napkins. JWE worked with as many local vendors as possible, including a local honey maker (in place of traditional Vermont maple syrup). Green never looked so good!

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A mixture of dark farm and linen tables blended with the natural Vermont environment to create the “Green Envy” look. The linens were a vibrant pop of green with a floral inlay, along with stunning see-through white floral runners. Photo courtesy Kelsey Regan Photography

Designer of the Year: Kristin Banta, Kristin Banta Events

Kristin Banta has been an innovator for over twenty years, setting the standard for high-end events. At the cutting edge of the latest trends in décor, catering, and entertainment, she takes the client’s vision to an epic new level, orchestrating truly original celebrations in locations worldwide that are provocative and impact all senses, telling a distinct story to each and every guest. She’s known for her ability to completely transform spaces into immersive, interactive, and exploratory environments for attendees, always with fresh content that is multi-dimensional and memorable.  

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Kristin Banta Events’ “Grand Slam Mitzvah” featured a fashion-forward baseball-themed approach that offered adults a place to be seated for dinner. This tablescape featured an installation of baseballs and baseball mitts with phalaenopsis florals. Photo courtesy Katie Edwards Photography

Join Catersource + The Special Event in honoring the 2024 award finalists on Thursday evening, February 15, 5:30pm – 7:00pm at our awards gala in Austin, TX.

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