The 42nd Annual Uncommon Cause arts auction fundraiser generated a second-best-ever total of $110,934, according to organizers.
The top figure was $118,000 set in 2015, according to local records. Last year’s total was $77,000.
Before this event, organizers said they felt they were in good shape with a strong collection of sponsors, which boosted the cause.
A crowd of about 350 people, among the largest in recent years, helped the nonprofit Columbus Area Arts Council to a total that arts council executive director Kathryn Armstrong said left her pleased. She credited the event’s success to work of the organizing committee, event chairs, volunteers, and a mix of sponsors, donors and others.
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The theme of the Oct. 21 event in the hallways of the Columbus Learning Center — a change from The Commons, the most frequent home for the gathering — was “Designing the Future.” The new format featured a casual, mix-and-mingle atmosphere rather than a semi-formal, sit-down dinner — and many attendees, including longtime supporters, said they enjoyed the change.
“I think this (overall success) says something about moving toward a new and bright future for the arts,” Armstrong said.
The arts council is perhaps best known for its free public events such as Old National Bank First Fridays for Families and the summertime street concerts known as JCB NeighborFEST. Armstrong has said especially since early this year that the agency should be involved in a broader range of family-oriented events, rather than its sometimes-large-concert offerings of the past.
Brooke Hawkins, one of the Uncommon Cause co-chairs with husband Joshua Ratliff and Rick and Alice Johnson, said the Cause success could be a sign of something else, too.
“I think that it reflects that the community is really beginning to see Kathryn’s vision for change, and is supportive of this new energy that’s she’s bringing,” Hawkins said.
Armstrong assumed her post June 1, 2016, and her board expected her to make changes to bolster the agency financially while adjusting its scope and mission.
The fundraiser featured a silent auction and a public auction and music — plus food stations from chef Gethin Thomas and Henry Social Club spread through two levels of the structure. Hawkins said that was popular with the crowd, and various offerings become a central focus.
“We were very pleased with the way Gethin decided to do the food,” Hawkins said.
One twist early in the evening: as guests rounded a corner at the end of the lobby, they found Thomas at a food station shucking oysters right in front of diners.
Hawkins also gave credit to Ratliff, who plans and organizes events for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in his full-time work “and understands the importance of running things efficiently.”
Ratliff saluted sponsorship recruiters such as board president Scott Poling and board member Ashley Abner for their strong work in assuring that the event would be a money-maker no matter what.
“We definitely built it to be profitable from the get-go,” Ratliff said.
He added that a post-event meeting that included a review of ticket-buyer information showed a significant boost in the 40-and-younger crowd — an element that board members and guests mentioned in casual comments during the event.
Ratliff also said he believes younger and other arts supporters believe in Armstrong’s push for a more fiscally responsible and accountable arts agency — one in which she has emphatically emphasized that every dollar counts.
“Yet, she’s ready to experiment and take a risk,” Ratliff said.
That includes future arts events.
“We always should be willing to mix it up and always should be willing to look at things a little differently,” Armstrong said.