P&C arts reporter Dottie Ashley files this account of the weekend's Spoleto auction...
News flash! The Spoleto Festival USA is no longer confining its fund-raising sites to the peninsula.
This year the festival's purview extended miles from South of Broad out to Daniel Island, which served as the site for the 2007 auction held Jan. 26.
Besides bringing in fresh faces, the event earned a record gross of $189,000, topping the $138,000 mark at last year's affair.
The annual auction, staged for 26 years as one of the two major fund-raisers for the comprehensive arts festival held here each spring, is traditionally held in a downtown location (even if that location is the Ports Authority Terminal or a tent set up in a field near Brittlebank Park). Past favorites included the Francis Marion Hotel and The Citadel, along with Charleston Place Hotel.
In 2006 the special events movers-and-shakers took a giant leap across the Cooper River to Patriots Point, where a huge, heated tent was raised. But attendees had to use portable toilets, which caused quite a few complaints, especially as one had to traipse quite a ways from the tent in freezing weather in order to get to one.
Spoleto board member Denise Barto, who has worked on the auction committee for many years, said the festival took another giant leap because officials of the Daniel Island Club offered to donate their facility, including a brand new ballroom, for the cause.
"Spoleto wants to be inclusive and certainly Daniel Island is part of Charleston's corporate community, and so we gladly accepted their invitation," says Barto. "Of course we knew that some people had probably never been to Daniel Island or to the club there, but we had directions printed on the back of the invitation, and we stationed people with flashlights at the various traffic circles to keep guests from getting lost," said Barto.
Not only was the auction held at a ritzy new club, but auction tickets topped $100 for the first time ever.
"We charged $125 a ticket (last year's tickets were $75), but we made certain that during the live auction every ticket holder had a seat at a table where champagne and desserts were served," said Barto, who said 300 people attended. "In the past, we only had enough tables for a few people, so others stood up, and sometimes we just put up folding chairs."
Barto said the only complaints heard were that the patio area (which connected to the tent set up for the various bars and to display items for the silent auction) was pretty cold. "The club had put heaters out there, but not enough for such a cold night," she said.
And then there was the problem of patrons not being able to find any substantial food, other than teeny-tiny pastries with caviar that were passed around from time to time. An enormous and gorgeous ice sculpture separated the martini bars and wine bars, and people sampled both as they
wandered the room filling out their silent-auction bids.
Overheard: "Aren't these people who run this club nice!" "Do you know where the rest of the food could be?" and "Wow! I didn't know all this was out here! Did you see those enormous houses we passed by? Never seen such big houses." (By the way, the big-house comments mainly came from South-of-Broad folks, which seemed a bit incongruous.)
When the real food, which was quite hearty (beef Stroganoff, pork chops and grilled vegetables), was discovered over in another wing of the club, there was much rejoicing, especially among the men.
Did the Daniel Island denizens turn out to support the cause?
"We know there were Daniel Island people there, but don't know how many," said Barto of the 300 guests. "This was our most successful auction, and we hope to get Daniel Island people more involved in Spoleto in the future. I thought it was especially nice of them to provide golf carts for people to
ride in from the parking lot to the clubhouse, and the whole thing was wonderful."
One longtime downtown patron observed, "I was so glad to see indoor plumbing this year, and the ballroom was like the old Plaza Hotel -- just gorgeous. So even if we never find our way home, it was all worth the trip!"