We are capping off our inaugural year with a review of the best galas of 2016. These philanthropic celebrations carry the most weight to us personally. It’s these fundraising galas, the grandiose events that raise awareness and much-needed funds for important causes, that led to the creation of PartySlate. We found that passionate gala chairs wanted new gala ideas to create a memorable experience for their donors. They also wanted access to the best event professionals to bring their vision to life.
Along with the attendees who generously contributed to the success of the fundraisers below, we tip our hats to all of the inspirational event professionals and their incredible gala ideas who bring a true labor of love to every detail.
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Date: May 2
This year, Anna Wintour’s renowned benefit was in celebration of the exhibition Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, which was on view from May 5 through August 14 in the Museum’s Robert Lehman Wing. This grand gala is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions and capital improvements.
Over 600 A-lister guests (from Taylor Swift to Beyonce) made their way onto the pink and red double helix “red carpet” — made up of 80,000 red roses, 200,000 red silk roses and laser-cut lace — in the museum’s Great Hall, where a stunning 16-foot wall or red roses also resided. From here, partygoers started their evening at The Met with an inaugural viewing of the exhibition and cocktails in the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. Dinner was then served at The Temple of Dendur in The Sackler Wing, followed by dessert and a performance.
Location: Beverly Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles
Date: October 8
Money Raised: 2 million dollars
The 30th annual Carousel of Hope Ball — for the Children’s Diabetes Foundation and the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes — was hosted by comedian `Jay Leno at The Beverly Hilton Hotel. Sharon Stone served as auctioneer for the live philanthropic activities, while an enormous silent auction – one of the best gala ideas – was spread throughout several ballrooms for guests to peruse throughout the evening. The star-studded list of attendees included Jane Seymour, Kathy Griffin, Samuel Jackson, Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Sidney Poitier, among several others. Fred Gibbons of Treefrogs Flower Design played off of the pink color scheme with the table decor, which also included carousel horses in some areas of the venue.
Location: The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles
Date: May 14
Money Raised: 2 million dollars
More than 700 international guests from the worlds of art, design, architecture, fashion, film and music arrived at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to honor Ed Ruscha at its annual star-studded gala. For this year’s event, the dining pavilion erected outside of The Geffen Contemporary was transformed into an immersive setting reminiscent of Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles-inspired “City Lights” paintings. The museum also showcased Balloon Dog (Magenta), and Balloon Dog (Yellow), a limited edition piece by Jeff Koons, produced by legendary French porcelain maker Bernardaud.
Location: Montage, Los Angeles
Date: January 9
Money Raised: 7 million dollars
Hollywood united to support Sean Penn and his J/P Haitian Relief Organization at the 5th Annual Help Haiti Home Gala at the Montage in LA, which was hosted by Anderson Cooper. A-list guests included Madonna (who also performed “La Vie En Rose” on a ukulele that was later sold during the auction for $300,000), Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, Lana Del Rey, Brad Paisley, Jason Segel and many more.
Location: Cipriani Wall Street, New York
Date: November 21
Money Raised: 3.7 million dollars
The 20th annual gala featured a packed pre-show red carpet with A-listers such as Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness, Dee and Tommy Hilfiger, Kris Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Sir Bob Geldof, Jonathan Batiste, Montel Williams, Donna Karan and many more. Cipriani Wall Street was a sea of red and pink, made possible by creative gala ideas like ambient lighting, colored candle holders and vibrant florals. The evening honored the work of Carl H. June, M.D., Director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania; the late Robert Kardashian and Heloise Pratt AM, Chair of The Pratt Foundation. Festivities included a cocktail reception, dinner and a luxury live auction led by Simon de Pury. Guests danced the night away to and DJ and live performances by Eurythmics legend Dave Stewart and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Date: June 1
Money Raised: 4 million dollars
MoMA’s annual Party in the Garden honored collection artists Huma Bhabha, Mark Bradford, and Brice Marden, along with philanthropists Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman and Sally and Wynn Kramarsky. Notable guests included the Rockefeller family, Jeff Koons, Vera Wang and Cindy Sherman, among several others. The After Party featured a live music performance from internationally acclaimed pop artist, Robyn, followed by a DJ set from artist Matthew Dear. Party in the Garden benefits MoMA’s Annual Fund and the maintenance of The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The dining area was draped in greenery, while one of the more playful gala ideas, a “selfie booth” where guests could stand in front of the white illuminated letters M-o-M-A, provided entertainment throughout the evening.
Steppenwolf Theater Gala
Location: Steppenwolf Theater Campus, Chicago
Date: May 14
Money Raised: 1.3 million dollars
The 2016 Gala kicked off in Steppenwolf’s Front Bar and 1700 Theatre, which provided attendees with the unique opportunity to mingle with ensemble members and leadership during a lively cocktail reception in the spaces that are not yet open to the public. Dinner was served in an outdoor tent designed by Event Creative, which mimicked the warm tones of the new Front Bar. Memorable photos from productions over Steppenwolf’s 40 years were displayed throughout the space, one of the more thoughtful gala ideas on this list. Following the auction, Steppenwolf ensemble member and co-founder Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band and a late-night DJ kept the dance floor packed until the wee hours.
> View gala photos
Location: The Rachofsky House, Dallas
Date: October 22
Money Raised: 7.5 million dollars
The 18th annual benefit and art auction jointly benefitted amFAR and the Dallas Museum of Art. The black-tie gala dinner — featuring a live and silent auction and entertainment — attracted prominent artists, art collectors, and philanthropists from around the world, including designer Pabaral Gurung, Zoe Saldana, John Benjamin Hickey, host Teddy Sears and Ricky Martin.
Each year, Todd Events breaks out their geodesic dome tent (90’ in diameter) for the Two x Two gala. This year, the theme was reflecting back. An all white and mirror look was complemented with hints of muted purples in the floral, tabletop accents and lighting. A mirrored catwalk stage with a mirror proscenium and mylar curtains was positioned at the back of the tent. Creative gala ideas like mirrored rectangular tables were topped with a collection of glass vases with orchids, lucite candlesticks with taper candles, and amethyst gem details. Projections of effervescing bubbles on the exterior of the tent provided for a great feature for guest arrival.
Location: Pier 92, New York
Date: March 17-21
Money Raised: 800,000 dollars
The 19th Annual Dining by Design combined a worthy cause and exceptional design into a four-day event that hosted 2,000 people at the two fundraisers and 45,000 throughout the week. The premier fundraiser featured table-top designs from almost 40 local and international designers, architects, manufacturers and retail brands. Take note of this gala idea: Each table sponsor transformed a raw space into a dining display, featuring vibrant colors, their latest products and a variety of themes — many tying in cause-related messaging raise further AIDS awareness.
Location: The Geraghty, Chicago
Date: April 9
Money Raised: 1 million dollars
The 9th Annual Hope Gala featured an “Imagine” theme — designed by Kehoe Events — which inspired attendees to imagine a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. Over the course of the evening, guests enjoyed a performance by Vanessa Williams, a seated dinner and a live auction, led by Vinnie Zaffarano. Almost 600 guests attended the gala and the after party, which was hosted by the UNICEF Next Generation Chicago Steering Committee.
Location: Orchestra Hall and Palmer House Hilton, Chicago
Date: October 15
Money Raised: 1.5 million dollars
Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Annual Symphony Ball marked the finale of the yearlong 125th anniversary celebration. Guests were greeted on the red carpet by live music from a brass quintet made up of musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. A pre-concert reception — catered by Blue Plate — took place throughout Symphony Center in the Grainger Ballroom, Buntrock Hall and the Rotunda. Immediately following the concert, guests proceeded to the historic Palmer House Hilton for a black-tie celebration including cocktails and dinner. The State Ballroom featured a customized boxwood backdrop — designed by Revel Décor — complete with a neon CSO logo on one side and an elegant display highlighting a timeline of music directors from Theodore Thomas (1891-1905) to Riccardo Muti. Gorgeous gala ideas like these do not go overlooked by guests.
Location: Navy Pier, Chicago
Date: May 21
Money Raised: 2.3 million dollars
A record breaking amount of money was raised at this year’s Wish Ball, which was a collaboration of contributions, live and silent auctions and a raffle. Along with a lively cocktail hour and seated gourmet dinner, the fundraising event also included a special performance by actor, comedian, writer and producer Paul Reiser before culminating in post-event festivity with live music on the Pier’s Lakeview Terrace Rooftop. Kehoe Designs was responsible for the colorful, tropical-like decor in various hues of blue and green, one of the incredibly festive gala ideas we love.
Location: Clifton’s Cafeteria, Los Angeles
Date: October 27
Money Raised: 235,000 dollars
The fourth annual UNICEF Masquerade Ball brought together hundreds of Los Angeles’ most influential young professionals at the iconic Clifton’s Cafeteria to ring in Halloween in a philanthropic way. Funds raised from the event helped support UNICEF’s lifesaving work, including programs to prevent violence against children in Jamaica. Along with DJ and musician Devendra Banhart, the event also featured performances by Cold War Kids, Josh Hoisington and LOLO, Jackie Tohn and The Clover String Quartet. Evelina Eco Events covered the entire ceiling of the space with colorful decor, to include creative gala ideas like shimmery streamers and colorful lighting that matched that Halloween theme.
Location: Brookline home of Brian Knez and Wioletta Zywina, Boston
Date: May 13
Money Raised: 3 million dollars
More than 500 guests attended Boys & Girls Club of Boston’s annual House Party, which was hosted at the Brookline home of Brian Knez and Wioletta Zywina. The annual event included a special tribute to Bryan Rafanelli for his creative vision and commitment to helping the young people in their community. The clear tent was filled with colorfully dressed tables and chairs fitted with covers representing the children supported by Boys & Girls Club.
Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center; Washington, DC
Date: March 12
Money Raised: 3.2 million dollars
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Leukemia Ball reigns as one of Greater Washington, D.C.’s largest, non-political black-tie events, bringing together business, philanthropic and community leaders from across the metro area for the fight against blood cancer. More than 2,000 guests attend this extraordinary evening that raises funds for life-saving cancer research and patient programs provided by LLS. Along with a gourmet dinner, the gala featured a world-class silent auction (one of the key gala ideas for raising funds) with travel packages from American Airlines, unique experience packages, sports and movie memorabilia, jewelry and more. The evening culminated with entertainment by Barenaked Ladies and comedienne Kathleen Madigan. Hargrove Inc., Urban Petals and PRG transformed the convention center into an elegant, rainbow garden-like atmosphere.
Location: Navy Pier Grand Ballroom, Chicago
Date: April 9
American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate’s annual Chicago Heart Ball was made possible by the talents of Kehoe Designs and Deseo Event Boutique. The grand event — hosted by Val Warner of ABC7’s “Windy City Live” — attracted more than 900 guests from Chicago’s business, medical, social and media communities, making it the largest attendance in the event’s history.
The evening’s festivities began at 6 p.m. with cocktails and a silent auction, followed by an elegant and heart-healthy dinner, an inspiring program, and a spectacular live auction After the program, guests continued the celebration at a glamorous after-party at Navy Pier’s Lakeview Terrace, featuring cocktails and live music.
Location: Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Hilton, Chicago
Date: October 1
Led by Co-Chairs Regan Rohde Friedmann and Eileen Murphy and Women’s Board President Mimi Mitchell, the Lyric’s 62nd annual Opening Night Gala began with guests walking a red carpet to enjoy the first installment of Wagner’s legendary Ring cycle, Das Rheingold. Partygoers were then transported to the Hilton for the elegant Opera Ball where HMR Designs transformed the Grand Ballroom into a magical world of blues and greens inspired by the Rhine River.
Location: Ice Palace Studios in Wynwood, Florida
Date: November 18
Money Raised: 2.5 million dollars
A total of 800 people attended the 20th Annual Best Buddies Miami Gala. This year’s theme was “Rock Legends,” which celebrated the immense contributions Best Buddies’ most influential supporters have made in advancing the organization’s mission for individuals with IDD. The event included tons of wonderful gala ideas we love: a fabulous cocktail hour, gourmet dinner, unique live and silent auctions and a live performance by pop star Kesha. When it came to decor, hanging guitars and concert-like lighting played off of the rock theme.
Location: The Drake, Chicago
Date: November 18
Money Raised: 1.3 million dollars
Attended by over 800 people and over 200 pets, the Fur Ball is a perennial favorite where canine companions enjoy all festivities with their guardians, from walking the red carpet to dancing late into the night. Kehoe Designs was responsible for the regal decor in the Gold Coast Room and Grand Ballroom where guests enjoyed a lavish dinner buffet, complete with a dog ice sculpture. After commemorating the experience with a photograph at the photo booth, partygoers celebrated late into the evening to the beats of DJ Daniel Holloway. Canine guests were also treated to an evening of indulgences, including a divine dinner served in crystal goblets at the special Dog Buffet and services at the Dog Spa, to include pawdicures and massages by an animal masseuse, one of the more unique gala ideas we’ve seen.
Tipping Point Benefit Gala
Location: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco
Date: May 5
Money Raised: 13 million dollars
More than 1,200 Bay Area residents attended Tipping Point Community’s 10th annual fundraising event. Tipping Point’s board of directors underwrites all operating costs so that 100% of every dollar donated or raised will go directly to the most promising education, employment, housing and wellness organizations in the Bay Area.
The block party-themed event featured a display of Mad-Lib style letters written by heads of business, non-profit leaders and community members reflecting on what it means to “be civic-centered.” Rye prepared the cocktails and local culinary artist Paula LeDuc designed a gourmet meal. After a program featuring three speakers who have benefitted from the support of Tipping Point grantees, the evening concluded with performances by Alabama Shakes and DJ Ruckus.
Location: InterContinental Boston, Boston
Date: April 30
Money Raised: More than 750,000 dollars
The American Heart Association welcomed more than 400 guests to its annual Boston Heart & Stroke Ball. The Kentucky Derby-themed gala was emceed by Jenny Johnson, co-host of NESN’s Dining Playbook. Johnson also conducted a spectacular live auction, which included a trip to the Kentucky Derby, a Paris vacation package and more.
One moving highlight of the evening was the Open Your Heart & Mind appeal, in which guests heard the compelling story of eight-year-old Maíread Hickok, of Lowell, who suffered a stroke at three days old. The night ended with dancing into the wee hours to a live band.
Crystal Charity Ball
Location: Hilton Anatole, Dallas
Date: December 3
The theme for the 2016 ball was “To Everything There is a Season.” Considered one of the most elegant events in the United States, the fundraiser benefits children’s charities in Dallas County. The stunning table and event decor was orchestrated by veteran event producer Tom Addis and supported by The Garden Gate’s Junior Villanueva and Lambert’s Landscape Design’s Paul Fields.
Elton John Aids Foundation's Academy Awards Viewing Party
Location: West Hollywood Park, Los Angeles
Date: February 28
Money Raised: 6.2 million dollars
John served as both host and entertainment for the evening, performing with his band at the bash for the first time in nearly a decade. Guests (ranging from Caitlyn Jenner to Mariah Carey to Vince Vaughn) dined on a five-course dinner while watching the ceremony seated at an array of circular tables topped with centerpieces of red lilies set against a lavish color scheme of magenta, tangerine and violet.
New York Botanical Garden Winter Wonderland Ball
Location: Haupt Conservatory, New York
Date: December 9
Going on its 18th year, the Winter Wonderland Ball remains New York City’s NYC’s most fashionable black-tie gala of the holiday season, drawing a list of A-list guests such as Anne Hathaway and Ariana Rockefeller. The annual event featured cocktails, dinner and dancing in the lush environs of the Haupt Conservatory, which was decked out with a twinkling holiday display, to include a whimsical “Holiday Train Show,” which was a fitting gala idea since the annual event supports the Garden’s world-renowned Children’s Education Programs.