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California Science Center Creates Winning Vegas Fundraiser

California Science Center Creates Winning Vegas Fundraiser

An event team jazzes up a vintage Vegas-style gala with a forensic-science spin

A Las Vegas party may make you think, “Been there, done that.” But Los Angeles' California Science Center took the typical decked-out-in-dice decor and threw it out the window. For the annual Discovery Ball fundraiser, “friendraiser” and donor recognition event, the center created a gala for 750 guests in March as titillating as Vegas itself, complete with stripper poles and a murder mystery …

LONG LIVE VEGAS Two temporary exhibits at the center — “CSI: The Experience” and “Target America: Opening Eyes to the Damage Drugs Cause” — provided a focal point and muse for the vintage Vegas fête. In fact, connecting the themes to the exhibits proved a much easier task than the previous year's “Body Worlds” event, according to Christina Sion, the center's vice president of food and event services. (“How do you make plastinated human bodies a fun dinner party theme?” she asks.) The current exhibits, on the other hand, offered plenty of appealing theme options. The forensic science-focused TV show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” takes place in Vegas, so Sion's team decided Vegas with a dash of forensic science via a murder mystery would best highlight the exhibits.

For decor, Sion wanted iconic and fresh, not typical and tired. So the team opted for Vegas, vintage-style, without re-creating the too-obvious Rat Pack era. And because the playing card palette of red, white and black is played out, Sion says, the team instead opted for lively royal blue, violet and silver. For the look, the center turned to Los Angeles-area's Wildflower Linen's silver paillette overlays, Rrivre Works' oversized-yet-lightweight chandeliers, and CJ Matsumoto & Sons' centerpieces adorned with feathers and jewels. Twelve-foot-tall neon showgirls from Culver City, Calif.-based Heaven or Las Vegas added plenty of additional punch.

But a Vegas theme just isn't a Vegas theme without a few old-reliables. A lounge act, slot machines, stripper poles and Keno board decor set a familiar theme. And a decadent dessert spread conveyed the very Vegas all-you-can-eat M.O. without the excessive spending for a full-on buffet of all courses.

WHODUNIT? To make the most of the CSI slant and the forensic science-based exhibit, Sion's team weaved a murder mystery into the program. En route to registration, guests “passed by the crime scene of a beautiful Las Vegas showgirl found dead under a bright canopy of neon lights,” Sion relates. The center opted for a larger-than-life tableau “to make sure it captured everyone's attention before entering the party,” she says, which looked authentic thanks to help from the Los Angeles County Coroner's office.

From there, the guests had to piece together the murderous puzzle, though they had plenty of help along the way. “The answer to the question: ‘Who killed the showgirl?’ had to be apparent, even after guests had a few drinks and many distractions,” Sion notes. A “Crime Lab” led by the center's education staff helped guests solve the mystery. Then a Vegas-style revue revealed the murderer via a choreographed dance number. Says Sion: “Jealous lover. It figures!”

KA-CHING Yet, the Vegas murder mystery theme wasn't all about flash and intrigue — it served a practical purpose as well. With the economy in a slump, the center didn't want to sink a ton of money into decor. A Vegas theme offered a big look without the added bucks, as well as ready-made decor options aplenty. Also helpful: “For the first time, we did the event design entirely in-house,” Sion notes.

But the careful plan had to be adjusted along the way. A counted-upon Vegas casino sponsorship fell through, which forced the team to work harder to sell tickets and reach out to a broader audience. Still, due to the state of the economy, Sion anticipated a drop in sales. A short live auction offset the drop, while nearly daily budget-tallying prevented overspending. The result was heartening: a $1.1 million gross — the financial goal.

Case closed.



Smoked Salmon

Truffled Potato Salad

Quail Eggs and Caviar

Chateaubriand au Poivre
with Green Peppercorn
Cognac Sauce, Parmesan
Pommes Duchesse and a
Vegetable Bouquet

Portobello Mushroom
Rainbow Couscous

Las Vegas-style
Dessert Buffet



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