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Beauty & The Beast: LA Art Gala

LA’s Wearable Art Gala makes stunning return celebrating Harlem Nights

Unless noted, photos by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for WACO

It is evolving into the Met Gala of the West Coast, with its eye toward exquisite finery and costuming, star-studded attendance, and a charitable backbone. The Wearable Art Gala, now in its fifth year benefitting WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center in Los Angeles (raising resources to support artistic and youth mentorship programs) descended upon Barker Hangar in Santa Monica with the theme, Harlem Nights, celebrating the fashions of the 1920s to the 1950s and an aim to reclaim the artistic legacies of Black ancestors. After two years away (COVID, of course) it was truly an October night to remember.

With music, dancing, savory culinary dishes and signature cocktails, a jazz club, art auction, step and repeat, outstanding musical performances, and artistic tributes, the event was breathtaking. I’m certain you will gain inspiration for your next event from the following photographs.

"I have always had this dream to bring the energy, tastes, and sounds of Harlem in the 1920s to ‘50s to our gala,” shared Tina Knowles-Lawson, event chair. “From the fashion and the food to the art, cars, and supper clubs—on this night, people will be taken back in time to experience and be inspired by it all…today—in 2022.”

This is my tribute to all the hard-working individuals who made it happen. We event pros, caterers, electricians, florists, and more—we do the tricky behind-the-scenes work. We wave the wand, then the guests show up and have a terrific time, never necessarily seeing the magic we do.

I was at that event for two days helping with set up. It was a challenging event—for reasons, perhaps, that I can’t necessarily put into print.

Among other things, I facilitated finding a tech who could run last minute electricity to a catering station, barged into Andra Day’s green room like a boss mom in search of 150 missing cheese board knives (she’s wonderful, of course—she even helped me look), took a turn at a catering station handing out sliders to celebrities, had a few laughs with well-appointed gents on security detail, set chairs, cleared tables, hauled garbage, and struck the set.

There’s more, of course, but first Beauty…and then the Beast. Or maybe it should be Beauty…and then more Beauty. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

The Entrance

As guests first arrived, a lengthy red carpet step-and-repeat captured the star appeal and stunning attire of the many guests at this charitable gathering. Take these costumes straight to your Pinterest board and save them for event inspo.

Apps, Art & Media

Celebrities and guests next walked through a small but well-appointed fine art gallery exhibiting pieces to be auctioned (both via live and silent), and then through a media gallery featuring a film seeking funding, Black Terror, plus an activation by Meta. A variety of passed appetizers gave guests a taste of what was to greet them in the next space.

Harlem Renaissance

It was the era of the Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom, the Apollo Theater: exemplar establishments where powerful music, dazzling clothing, and memorable art manifested during the 1920s. At the Barker Hangar, WACO Theater Center partnered with EBONY to help recreate the vibe of this iconic era for the “dinner, dancing, and drinks” aspect of the evening—and it was accomplished magnificently via Stompin at the Savoy Supper Club.

Singers replicating legends of the past took the stage while dancers from the DADA (Debbie Allen Dance Academy) tapped and entertained guests. Six catering stations led by Chef D’s Original Catering (Los Angeles) featured small plates and drink pairings to keep the crowd sated. A mix of seating from banquets and plush sofas to small café tables allowed guests to eat and rest comfortably, a portrait area captured the moment, and a New Orleans-style Second Line led guests into the ballroom for the main program.

The Main Event

As guests entered the ballroom and took to their tables, they were greeted by beautifully appointed 10 tops, each place set with a small charcuterie and cheese board, event program, and auction paddle, plus a selection of wine and champagne. Tables at the front were reserved for event chairs and their guests, certain tables were purchased in toto, and others were left to the whim of guests—all designated by colored wristlets guests had received upon check in. It was a fairly smooth system for the 650 in attendance to tackle, with little confusion. I handled about three “where do I sit?” questions in the area I was monitoring (of about 150 guests).

The event, hosted by Keke Palmer, honored actress Angela Bassett and artist Mark Bradford, included a special performance by Andra Day, offered a fundraising art auction with auctioneer Star Jones which included works by April Bey, Hebru Brantley, Samuel Levi Jones, and others, and a musical tribute to end the evening was performed by sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey.

And as always, the event ran over, the crowd slowly made its way to the exits, and the event crew made haste to clear the entirety of the ballroom in a severely compressed timespan to make its midnight deadline.

The Beast

As mentioned earlier, none of the beauty could occur without the beast—all the hard work that the many, many event professionals and entertainers, the caterers and the servers, put into the pre-show right up until the very moment of guest arrival.

A Moveable Feast

Question: In an airplane hangar with no refrigeration, how does one safely store 650 assembled charcuterie boards until it’s time to set them?

Question two: beyond refrigeration, how might you stack them and keep them from being smashed or squashed? Finally, what would be the most efficient way to transport them into a ballroom with an event happening just steps away? These are the kinds of questions that keep catering mastermind Roy Porter of Engage Works problem solving until the best possible solution can be determined. Here are your answers!

Answer to question 1: A reefer truck parked outside the hangar, of course. Easy enough.

Answer to question 2: Roy contacted a local bakery for stackable bun racks. Each rack held eight finished boards. Racks were stacked and wheeled to the truck, loaded onto the lift and rolled into the cool interior until it was time to place them onto tables.

Answer to question 3: While guests were stomping at the Savoy in the next room over, a cadre of servers met at the truck, lowered the racks carefully, rolled them over taped down electrical wiring, up ramps, down hallways, through parted curtains, and into the ballroom. Captains directed servers, split into task groups. Some placed trays, some placed orchid garnishes, some pulled hummus wraps. Success!

Event Tip: Wear an eye-catching hat   

It looks silly, but it’s certainly an attention grabber. Best of all, when you are looking across a semi-lit ballroom during set up you can find the person in charge quickly. In a sea of bare heads and ball caps, Event consultant Roy Porter could be spotted in a New York minute. Genius.
Photo courtesy Special Events

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