When Suzanne and Ted Paulson serve soup at their Arty Party to benefit the Laguna Art Museum on May 21, they won't be ladling up bisque en croute, that crusty mainstay of posh, black-tie benefits. They'll be serving tomato in the can, Pop Art Soup.
The Paulsons are one of 17 couples who have agreed to help the museum raise funds for its $750,000 operating budget and art acquisition fund by conceiving and underwriting innovative parties. It is one of a series of small bashes intended as alternatives to benefit galas, as well as a way to cultivate longstanding arts supporters.
Tickets for the series--dubbed the May Dinners--are selling for $150 each (with one exception: a $300 per-person tribute held May 7 to honor museum supporters Nick and Barbara Williams at The Ritz in Newport Beach).
Claudette Shaw, museum development chairman, said the 13 parties, with a total of 354 guest spots, were designed to enhance the museum's long-range development. "We want to win friends and support," Shaw said. "And that's not a fast buck. When you invite someone to a black-tie party, you often get donations just to make you go away. We want people to feel comfortable when they part with their money. And we want them to have a good time, a good feeling about the museum."
Shaw expects the parties to raise a minimum of $50,000. "We have the capacity to raise more if we sell every ticket," she said, citing the 3,500 invitations that have gone out to museum members. The public also can purchase tickets, Shaw said.
Besides Pop Art Soup, a wacky nod to Andy Warhol, Arty Party will feature other items with arty-sounding names: Salmon with Laddie Dill sauce, Abstract Espresso and Rem Brandy. Guests have been invited to don "art attire."
The off-the-wall bash is actually being tossed in the homes of three Emerald Bay couples--Jo Ann and Ralph Roberts, Johann and Dr. Dick Jonas, and the Paulsons. Drinks such as Vin Van Gogh will be downed at the Robertses', with the main course taken at the Paulsons' and dessert--Mary Cassis ice cream--dished up at the Jonases'.
"The museum feels this is less risky fund-raising than taking a chance on inundating arts-supporting Orange County with yet another dress-up, sit-down, maybe even dull dinner," said Tara Madden, museum development director. "The development committee had sensed that people have been going to big-ticket events out of obligation. They wanted guests to have such a good time they'd get more involved with museum activities. We're trying to tell guests, 'We don't only want your check, we want you,' and we're giving them 13 different ways to join us."
While Arty Party was the first to sell out, others such as Sculpture With Panache--hosted by Tricia and Al Nichols of Laguna Beach--have been a hot ticket. On May 17, 20 guests will experience an afternoon of working with clay in sculptor Ed Chatlin's Santa Ana studio. Harp music will be provided, along with hors d'oeuvres and select wines. "We want to give people an opportunity to experience what it's like to be an artist," Tricia Nichols said. "We want them to know the transcendence that keeps artists working, even when they're not making much money."
Guests have been invited to wear smocks, but their subject will be nude. "We have a lovely young woman who can retain a pose for a long time. A live model will help guests experience the (artistic) feeling more fully."
Also included in the party invitation--a bubble-gum-pink booklet which invited prospective guests to "benefit the museum as well as yourself by choosing one or more of the eclectic offerings in this menu"--are parties dubbed Cote d' Azur, an intimate French dinner for eight hosted by Mavis and Jim Obrien of Corona del Mar, where guests are requested to "dress like the French do"; The Gong Show, hosted by Shaw and husband Don at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, where 70 guests will "smell the greasepaint and the ham"; For Only the Rich and Pampered, where six guests will have "every culinary fantasy come true when the cook and the butler (hosts Claire and Mac Burt of Santa Ana) will pamper beyond belief," and Guess Who's Coming to Lunch, a gathering for 60 at the Center Club in Costa Mesa, where hosts Tom and Elizabeth Tierney of Santa Ana will be host to Martin Bernheimer, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic for the Los Angeles Times, who will speak on the "Care and Feeding of the Critic. No tomatoes please."
All of the couples involved are in touch with their whimsical sides, Shaw said. "There's a lot of the child in them. And, they give themselves permission to enjoy it. The prevailing philosophy of our museum is that art should be enjoyable, part of everyday life. We want supporters to have a good time."
According to Madden, the dinners are almost a sellout.