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Charles Wright Gala Kept Guests Happily on Their Feet

By M+E Staff

Sometimes an event is spectacular because of what guests don’t see. 

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew 500 attendees to its annual gala fundraiser, held Oct. 8 at the Detroit institution. The party, planned by Star Trax Events, took place almost entirely within a 10,000-square-foot custom-built tent with custom flooring that required five days to assemble on-site and plenty of improvisation along the way.

“Working inside of a tent is challenging, no matter how you look at it,” says Harris Van Cleef, vice president of Star Trax. “At the end of the day, it looked even better than we thought it would. But there were a lot of last-minute additions, especially draping and lighting. Because you’ve never worked inside this space—because you’re custom-building it—you don’t know what the nooks and crannies are. We probably added 250 square feet of draping the day before the event to create just a little bit of softness to break it up. Until you start laying that event out, you don’t know how it’s going to fit.”

The gala, themed “Music on my Mind” and featuring performances by a number of local and national musicians, was intended to be a lively, exciting party rather than the staid affair with everyone eating chicken at round tables one might expect of a high-end fundraiser. Seating was available for about 250, including many sofas and lounge chairs, with a mix of high and low tables. The intent was to keep people moving; in fact, much of the existing seating was often unused.

“The Charles Wright is very rich and cultural, very diverse, and we wanted the party to feel that way,” Van Cleef says. “And it did. The event was specifically created so that it was really about people enjoying themselves. There wasn’t a single food station; everything was passed. We wanted to move people through the room and make it a celebration. Everywhere you went, there was a party.”

Catering was provided by Forte Belanger. The event’s color palette was orange, hot pink and purple; linens, flooring and furniture were largely grey and black, with the accent colors popping all around. Twenty-two George Nelson lamps hung from the ceiling. Jeffrey Jucewicz provided the floral elements. 

“The floral made the room,” Van Cleef says. “The room was great, but until that floral went on the table—with the giant orange rose balls and pinks and purples … Your eye always knew where to go.”

The event’s execution was largely the result of the pros working behind the scenes, van Cleef says, including Performance Staging, Wahl Tents and Premier Event Technology.

“The people we worked with were incredible,” Van Cleef says. “Everybody all came together and worked as a group—nobody worked as an individual. It was pretty unbelievable to see. You can step back and not micromanage it because they know what they’re doing.” 

Recognizing that the $350 ticket was prohibitive for some, the gala included a $100 ticket dance party that kicked off at 10 p.m. For earlier arriving guests, the transition was seamless, and it kept the event lively all night. 

Van Cleef says Star Trax has received positive feedback on the party. “That event had energy,” he says. “I think what will happen is they will find a lot more people will want to come next year.”