Society / Featured Parties

Surprise $20 Million Gift Makes This Night at the Museum Unforgettable

Austin's Social Scene Shows its Black-Tie Power in Stunning Blanton Setting

BY // 02.27.19

When invited to hop down to Austin for the weekend to attend The Blanton Museum of Art Gala, I had little idea as to what to expect.

For one, I had yet to visit the University of Texas at Austin’s renowned museum, which has garnered much attention as of late with the opening of Ellsworth Kelly’s remarkable Austin chapel-style building last year.

And while I am well versed in the Dallas gala scene, I was equally curious to see how Austin’s society set would turn out for its own black-tie moment. As a native of Southern California, I’m often told I would respond positively to Austin’s more laid-back vibe.

How, I wondered, would that translate to dressing for a formal evening?

Let’s just say, our state’s capitol delivered in spades — on all matters of fashion and philanthropy. Despite rain and a hint of sleet on this February night, Austin society turned out in its black-tie best — fur coats were in full force, but paired with more casual, though still stylish, floor-length dresses — and UT’s genteel cowboys were armed with umbrellas and escorted attendees to the event from the valet post.

While I’m a Californian at heart and certainly appreciate a casual sensibility, I can’t resist a good dose of Southern hospitality.

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Once inside the museum, it was all about the art. Mexico-based artist Thomas Glassford’s magnificent Siphonophora hanging sculpture commanded attention during the cocktail hour — as did the exhibition “Words/Matter: Latin American Art and Language at the Blanton,” which opened that evening as a first look exclusively for gala attendees.

The Blanton’s impressive collection drew guests upstairs, where they meandered through the galleries for a pre-dinner art immersion. Who doesn’t love a museum tour after hours?

With the ring of the dinner chimes, guests walked from the museum outside and into a translucent tent, which had been swathed in gorgeous red décor (no shortage of crimson roses, here) by Flora Feteish and Frank & Victor Design. With views of the Texas State Capitol and Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin in the background, there could be few more quintessential-Texas settings at which to host a gala.

After the second course of a divine dinner created by chef Elmar Prambs (he of Four Seasons Hotel Austin hotel fame), the Blanton’s director Simone Wicha along with UT President Gregory Fenves took the dais.

The duo had quite the announcement to make — one to the tune of a surprise $20 million. Indeed, that night made it official: The Moody Foundation has gifted the Blanton $20 million for the purpose of reimagining and redesigning the museum grounds, making it a more visually prominent icon on the Austin landscape.

Ross Moody, a trustee of the foundation was in attendance — for our Dallas readers, his sister is Francie MoodyDahlberg, a staple on Dallas’ local philanthropic scene — along with his daughter, Elle Moody.

The epitome of poise, Elle made graceful remarks following the surprise announcement.

“This museum taught me that art is a vital social force to inspire and unite communities,” she said. “The Blanton continues to make great strides bringing world-class art experiences to visitors from Central Texas and beyond, and we are honored to support this exciting next chapter.”

Cue the ovation.

Houstonians in the crowd were notables including Leslie and Jack Blanton Jr. and Kelli and Eddy Blanton of the Blanton family for which the museum is named. Count Judy and Charles Tate among the Houstonians driving over for the fête.

And to Austin, a note: If all of your social events are executed with such aplomb, consider me a much more frequent visitor.

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