The first ticket for the 40th anniversary of unCommon Cause goes on sale Monday. Organizers of the Columbus Area Arts Council fundraiser hope hundreds more are then sold in quick fashion.

“Fabulous at Forty” will be Oct. 16 at The Commons. Over the years, the unCommon Cause event has generated nearly $2 million for the council’s programming, ranging from First Fridays for Families free monthly entertainment to free, monthly JCB NeighborFEST street concerts. Last year’s unCommon Cause raised nearly $100,000, up from $83,000 in 2013.

The gala is the arts council’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

The idea for the unCommon Cause dinner and auction grew out of a 1975 benefit ball at the original Commons to raise funds for Commons programming. George Budd headed a committee of organizers that contracted with Chicago-based Dan Glasser Orchestra to provide music. A midnight breakfast prepared by chefs James Gregory and Jens Thomsen capped the night.

The idea expanded in 1976 to the unCommon Cause dinner and auction, taking its name party from the original Commons built in 1973. With a theme of “The Yankee Peddler,” the inaugural event raised $20,000.

Columbus resident Dede Abts, who led that first event with her husband, Hank, and then-Mayor Robert and Barbara Stewart, holds fond memories but was unsure of her fundraising prowess.

“I thought, ‘It’ll either be really great — or maybe a big flop,’” she said with a laugh.

Many of the events have been deemed great. At the peak of its popularity in its first decade, the fundraiser attracted 500 people or more. Crowds in more recent years have ranged from about 270 to last year’s 330.

Also, the early version of the event actually was divided into two dates: one for the more-formal gala dinner and auction, and another for a free public auction of items.

Sometimes through the years, the dinner gathering featured a national touch, such as in 1987 when ex-Supremes singer Mary Wilson performed, or in 1990 when nationally touring jazz trumpeter and Bourbon Street star Al Hirt joined in on a Mardi Gras theme.

The event even echoed a bit of world affairs in 2003 when then-Mayor Fred Armstrong asked if organizers possibly could change a French-inspired theme, “Tray Chic,” because of France’s lack of support for the United States in its war in Iraq. Armstrong had the backing of local veterans groups, but organizers pointed out that all advertising and other materials had been printed — and local artists already had decorated trays to be auctioned.

Shrode said she is happy that local residents appreciate “the intrinsic value that the arts have in this community — and that they have long recognized the importance of strongly sustaining a local organization such as the arts council.”

A new wrinkle for this year is that event leaders won’t be organizing the gala or helping push the fundraising. The arts council staff and board is assuming a more central role, said Karen Shrode, the arts council’s executive director.

40 years and counting

What: 40th annual unCommon Cause arts fundraiser with dinner, a silent auction, a public auction, and music with Zanna-Doo! playing classic rock to current pop hits.

When: 6:30 to 11 p.m. Oct. 16.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Tickets: Available beginning Monday. $125 for an individual, $2,000 for a corporate table of eight, $2,500 for a corporate table of 10. The corporate tables will receive various perks.

Information: Columbus Area Arts Council at 812-376-2539 or

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.