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What happens when even the organizers aren’t sure how to describe the theme of a party?
At least, that’s the plan for this year’s 37th annual unCommon Cause, a gala and silent auction to be held Oct. 27 to raise money for the Columbus Area Arts Council.
This year’s theme, “Chaos Reigns, Steampunk Rules,” refers to a genre that takes a futuristic view of the past, but also to Columbus’ industrial heritage.
“People can get as creative with the theme as they want,” said committee co-chairman Ryan Lauer.
Committee members say that communicating the theme’s meaning isn’t without its challenges, especially since many of them were unaware of the steampunk genre.
“I had never heard of it,” said committee co-chair Geri Handley. “I had to Google it!”
Steampunk refers to what began as a literary genre but has since grown to encompass an entire aesthetic. The look is Victorian-era history with industrial, futuristic elements. Novels by Jules Verne, with their fantastical time machines and submarines, are a good example, as are the recent movies “Hugo” and “Sherlock Holmes.”
More simply: “It’s a mix of art and science,” said committee co-chairwoman Victoria Glick.
Still confused? Organizers say Columbus residents have one of the best examples of the steampunk aesthetic right here in town.
“‘Chaos’ is quintessential steampunk,” said Lauer, referring to the “Chaos I” sculpture in the Commons downtown.
And just as the “Chaos” sculpture is a nod to Columbus’ industrial roots, the gala’s tagline — “tomorrow as it used to be” — references the Arts Council’s commitment to preserving our artistic past while paving the way for more growth in the future.
The theme originally was inspired by a necklace worn by an Arts Council staff member and was one of several themes that was batted around by the planning committee.
“It was the one we had the most fun with,” Lauer said.
And because the look is a bit haphazard and cluttered by nature, it also is a theme that is fairly easily executed on a budget. Handley, who has been involved with unCommon Cause for 20 years, said table centerpieces are a mix of embellished Victorian hats, decoupaged mannequin heads and industrial-looking safety goggles.
And what are they embellished with?
“Junk!” Handley said.
Gears, nuts and bolts, old clock parts, feathers, lace, gemstones — much of which was recovered from volunteers’ basements and garages — all have found homes in the decor.
Kathy Leitholt, who has worked on decorations for past unCommon Cause galas before taking a break in recent years, was lured back into the fold by steampunk’s endless possibilities.
“It looked so interesting, I thought ‘I would love to work on this,’” she said. “Once you get started putting these things together, you just want to add more.”
“You can do a lot with old watch parts and a hot glue gun,” Lauer said.
It isn’t just the decor that will bring the theme to life. Upon entering the Commons, guests will be entertained by Ford Theatre Reunion, an eclectic quintet based in Lexington that uses a banjo, clarinet and accordion in addition to the standard drums-and-guitar routine.
While the menu still is in the planning stages, food, provided by Smith’s Row, also will reference a bygone era.
Even the seating arrangement is a bit jumbled: Single-ticket buyers will be seated with other single ticket buyers, so table mates will be a surprise.
“It’s all about getting to know your neighbor, with a little bit of chaos thrown in,” said committee co-chair Blair Lauer.
Organizers say that black-tie attire always is appropriate, but those feeling inspired can seek out Victorian-era garb such as stove pipe hats, corset-style dresses, pocket watches, monocles and long coats.
The embellished hats standing in for centerpieces will be auctioned off early in the evening.
If all else fails, take a cue from Handley and do an image search online. “In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words.”
If you go
unCommon Cause to benefit the Columbus Area Arts Council
Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
$127 per person, $1,197 for a table of eight.
Silent auction online bidding begins Oct. 3 at BiddingForGood.com.
For outfit inspiration, check out the event’s Facebook page at facebook.com/UnCommonCause or Pinterest account at Pinterest.com/unCommonCause
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