The August Wilson Center provided a minimal, modern backdrop for the 400 guests who attended the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Festival of Firsts Gala Saturday evening. The financially challenged cultural center looked downright dramatic, with red draping on the windows downstairs and color-coded dining rooms created in the usually empty public and gallery spaces on the second floor. It was the first time the trust has used the venue for its annual black-tie benefit, and despite the sense of impending loss (future plans for the center are unknown), much is right about the place.
The trust made full use of the space beginning with cocktails in the lobby and cafe area. Contemporary floral arrangements by Hens and Chicks popped against the red draping, and the use of primary colors continued upstairs where guests were assigned to brightly hued dining rooms. The Duquesne Club catered a marvelous and elegant meal -- an appetizer of chilled lobster, Colorado bison and a wonderful chocolate hazelnut dessert. Then it was off to the theater -- just steps away in the heart of the building.
Unlike past galas when the headliner was a major draw, a performance by Nellie McKay and the Turtle Island Quartet was tepidly anticipated and received an even more lukewarm response. A combination of Betty Boop, Marlene Dietrich and Tiny Tim, complete with ukulele, Ms. McKay was simply a disappointment who chided the audience for not drinking enough. Many agreed with her. Fortunately there was more dessert in the lobby to take the sting out of things, and the trust could call the evening a success with a gross of $460,000.
Chairing the gala were Nadine and John Engel of sponsor WESCO International. Trust president Kevin McMahon welcomed the guests and apologized for the all the Rubber Duck traffic -- its appearance on our rivers kicked off the Festival of Firsts, which is presenting an assortment of international visual and performing arts premieres through Oct. 26 in the Cultural District.
Helping to support this and other trust efforts were board chair Carolyn Duronio, Tom and Bonnie VanKirk, Toto Fisher, Eva Tansky Blum, Cindy and Murry Gerber, Marian Vanek and Dan Griffin, Bill and Vivian Benter, Grant and Aradhna Oliphant, Terri and Scott Izzo, Liz and Dan Wilson, Pam and Ken McCrory, Carol Hefren Tillotson, Jane Arkus, Bill and Janet Hunt, Judy and Ron Davenport, Steve and Karen Feinstein, Catherine Loevner, Selma and Leon Sherman, Marina and Ken Lehn, Kitty Hillman, Sue and Scott Lammie, Brigette and Bill Kolano, Laura and Adam Sufrin, and Nancy Byrnes, who orchestrated the evening.
First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM