Guitars Under the Stars and more…

2/22/2010 Monday 9:51 pm

This past Saturday night was our fifth Guitars Under the Stars education benefit gala for the Austin Classical Guitar Society.  Each year the event gets a little bit better, and this past Saturday most certainly continued our trend upward!  There is no question in my mind that its all about the people.  It’s our staff, our volunteers, our donors, our board of directors, our teachers, our students, our performers, and our guests.  These amazing people, combined with our institutional knowledge and a bit of vision, are what combine to make a great event.

Ly Barrett, attorney by day and event planner… by day also… lent us her considerable skills to give our event a polished look.  The theme for the evening was something I came up with, actually, “Something Special…”.  “Something Special” was an attempt to capture this year in the history of our education program as we have built and published a substantial curriculum product and are now serving more kids than ever with big plans on the way.  Between Ly, our ace designer Claudia Roeschmann, and ACGS’ tireless Administrative Assistant April Long, the event’s look and feel was built around that simple phrase and, of course, guitars and stars.

We continued our live and silent auctions this year.  We had more and better items than ever before.  Several board members and a fabulous volunteer Paulina Soenen, were responsible for the bulk of the items that did not come directly from staff and our institutional relationships that have been built over the years.  Our terrific auctioneer, Peter Remington, led us not only through the live auction with his good humor and generous spirit, but he even guided us in the preparation for the event.  This is our third year working with Peter, and I was pleased with myself that I remembered this year to chat with him far enough ahead of the event to actually put into place some of his great suggestions (in the past we’ve met right before the day, and he’s rattled off great ideas that I’ve not had time to implement!).

KMFA 89.5 gave us free promotion of this event, because its a charity event for our outreach program, Twin Liquors is a continuing sponsor of ACGS and Claudia Roeschmann generously donated her amazing talent to help us make the thing look good.  She even came up with a quick logo for the Something Special idea – it’s below.

The night itself ran like this: guests arrived around 7, the program began around 8.  I blabbed, interspersed with 5 fabulous performances, until about 9, and then Peter took us away with the auction.  The silent auction closed at 9:45.  My talk focused on Education and our giant international festival in June.  The performers were stunning.  Vincent Turner’s Koyunbaba had people jumping out of their chairs to applaud, Tom Echols’ Cappricio Diabolico was magnificent, and the McCallum High School advanced ensemble, under the direction of Andrew Clark, did a phenomenal private debut performance of Graham Reynold’s great new piece for youth ensemble currently titled Powerman.

So what are the lessons to take away from all of this?  Certainly for something like this there are a lot of moving parts.  From the food and the wine and the rentals and the lights and sound and performers and invitations, and countless other details, there is an amazing multitude of things to keep track of.  My advice to anyone considering a fundraiser like this is to ask for help from someone with experience.  An experienced, professional, paid event planner will handle nearly all of these details, but if you’ve got the budget to pay for one of those, you probably also have a lot of experience with high level events because those services do not come cheap.  For us, it has not been necessary to have one person own every aspect of the event, so much as it has been a democratic and open process with many hands making relatively light work.  As artistic and executive director, I set vision, pick artists, and choose content for the program itself, but what makes the event really sparkle is all of the contributions from the people I’ve mentioned above.

So the event was tons of fun.  We had about 100+ guests.  Tim and Karrie League were there, from the Alamo Drafthouse – our absolute favorite movie theater in the whole world.  They actually won Vincent’s concert and my concert at the live auction – I’m really looking forward to being involved in both of those!  Michael Barnes, the Social Columnist for the Austin American Statesman was there and has covered it already in his blog with some great pics!  Our friends John Henry McDonald and Louise Epstein were there – John Henry is on the ACGS  board (and owner and founder of Austin Asset Management Company) – as were their friends that they’ve recently introduced us to: Wayne and Lynn Morgan.  Its funny how the world works… we had a special event scheduled for March 13th, and the hosts had to cancel.  I was getting ready to cancel the artist who was scheduled to play that evening when I remembered that Wayne and Lynn had offered to host something.  So I asked them if they’d like to have some at their home in 3 weeks and – whammo – the event is back on the schedule!

…and that fast forwards us to today.  I just returned from the Morgan’s amazing west Austin home.  We were charting out the 3/13 event.  I can’t wait!  What else happened today?  Buckalew Media finished our TV spots that will air on News 8 Austin and KLRU in the run up to our festival.  The Long Center will also pop the 20 second spot into their rotation, so I trotted down to the Long Center today with a DVD of the 20 second spot and gave it to their PR person (Shaady Ghadessy) today.  I was actually on my way to meet with the Austin Children’s museum who are artistic partners for our children’s show presentation planned for June 26th – and we were talking about the details of our co-promotion!  In the car I then got the great news that KMFA’s Suzanne Warmack had secured a $5,000 sponsorship to pay for their live simulcast of our opening night of the festival.  And literally as I was reading that email, parked in front of Joe’s on second street, my phone rang and I got the news that a friend of ours had just donated $1000 for scholarships for kids to attend our youthfest at the GFA this summer.  The $1000, combined with the $2000 or so we made on Saturday in straight donations for scholarships, combined with the $1000 or so we made at the Strumathon two weeks ago, translates to free tuition for around 80 young people to attend out youthfest this summer.  So when I got home I made some calls to area educators, and one in Brownsville who I know has been trying to raise money, to let them know we’ll be able to contribute to their efforts to bring kids.

I was particularly struck by something our auctioneer Peter Remington said on Saturday night.  He said something like: “I work with a lot of organizations, but with ACGS and Matt, I really see where my money goes.  You can se it in the kids they serve and you can certainly hear it in the music those kids play.”  He was much more eloquent than that, but it was a great sentiment.  Today as I was calling teachers to tell them that I can send checks directly to help them bring kids to Austin for an unforgettable educational experience, I was reminded of that.  I was reminded of how directly the donations we receive are able to be converted, 100%, in meaningful educational and personal development experiences for diverse kids in our communities.  It feels really good.

Here's Claudia's Logo for this year's Gala

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