Trading Filet Mignon for Chicken Pot Pie
Feb. 26, 2009, The New York Times — In the Gilded Age of the 1890s, when the local opera company held a benefit, it might have included world-class singers and ice sculptures ringed with caviar. Tickets would have been steeply priced, and the bedizened guests would have lined up to spend lavishly on games of chance that helped the charity.
In the equally gilded 1990s, organizers of benefits competed to arrange the most flower-embellished dinner dances with the most famous rock musicians, complete with obligatory (slightly warmed-over) filet mignon, often at the fanciest hotel in town. Admission prices were astronomical — but so were the costs of giving the bash.
Now, with unemployment at record highs and the stock market at alarming lows, even the wealthy — no matter whether they personally lost money or not — are toning down the benefit, that yearly fund-raising ritual, in a number of ways.
Peter Duchin, the bandleader, said he was being asked, “Instead of a 12-piece orchestra, could you do a 10-piece — and charge us less?” (His answer? "We tell repeat charity clients, We’ll work with you in these hard times,” he said.)
In St. Louis, Stephanie Riven, executive director of the Center of Creative Arts, is known for her big events. As an incentive to prospective donors who are worried about their pocketbooks, she has now put tables for the museum’s spring fund-raiser, a 1960s theme party, “on sale” for a limited time. “If you buy your table before April 3, the price is $2,000,” she said. “If you buy it after, it’s $2,500.”
John Dobkin, who has been active in the museum world for 30 years, first as director of the National Academy of Design in New York City and now as vice president of Wilderstein, a Victorian house museum in Rhinebeck, N.Y., said the Wilderstein board has “discussed the restructuring of the annual fund-raising party, in order to minimize the expenses and maximize the profit.”