As editor of St. Charles Avenue magazine, I have the opportunity to not only write about and see photos from more than 120 nonprofit galas a year, I am also able to attend a good number of them. From lavish parties held at large event spaces to intimate gatherings at the homes of generous supporters, from award parties to gala openings, I thought I had seen all of the permutations that these events had to offer.

Then I was invited to attend the opening of “American Cool” at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. (see my last blog for an interview with the exhibit’s curator).

The gala was held at the Gallery on the first floor in an area that, unless you looked up to see the beams of the glass ceiling, felt like you were outdoors (but warm, which it was not that evening), while the exhibit was on the second floor.

The exhibit is amazing and I encourage you to visit it if you can, and buy curators Joel Dinerstein and Frank H. Goodyear III’s book on the exhibit, American Cool. Each of the galleries not only included the most incredible photos, mostly black-and-white, of the 100 people featured with descriptions (there is also a “Alt. 100” list of those who didn’t quite make it), but they also had a set list that was playing to set the tone for the room and an interactive screen that had clips of the performances of the musicians and actors featured, courtesy of the History Channel. (One note about the photo descriptions: These aren’t your typical “This is so-and-so and he’s special because of ____.” Some descriptions were quotes about the featured person by other famous people, while others showcased little-known aspects of these very famous people. For each one, I learned something about the subject I hadn’t previously known.)
How Galas are Done in Other Cities
At the party, there were two bars (and of course one of the bartenders had lived in New Orleans and was trying to come back; Hi Dave!), specialty cocktails, passed hors d’oeuvres and tables of food (the lamb sliders were my favorite). The lighting was bright enough that you could see what you were eating, but muted enough that it flattered everyone. And then there was the entertainment. There was a choir, a soloist, a slam poet, a modern dance troupe – each performed twice – and a DJ (who will be visiting New Orleans for the first time in March, so if you see him, please make him feel welcome!) You can listen to DJ Shea Van Horn's playlist for the night on Spotify.

The party was from 7 to 10 p.m., we arrived before 7:30 and closed down the gala; I went back and forth from the exhibit to the party all evening long ad before I knew it, the party was over and the lights were coming on.

It was fun and enlightening to see how another city “did” galas, and it is a night I will remember – and compare other events to – for years to come.