In a night filled with outstanding performances, marvelous artistic mashups, delicious dining and guests donned in “creative black tie,” the Washington Performing Arts (WPA) highlighted how the D.C. area is not just the nation’s capital, but also a hub to celebrate cultures worldwide.
With the theme “The World in Our City,” the WPA Gala, hosted at the National Building Museum, highlighted the wide array of local and international talent showcased in the District and emphasized the critical importance of supporting the arts.
“What’s fantastic about WPA is the breadth and range of arts that they present annually,” said WPA supporter Paul Ashe. “Even through the pandemic we kept arts alive in Washington, which is a very culturally rich, beautiful place, and keeping the arts alive is one way to celebrate the things that connect and culturally unite all of us. So you don’t have to be from here, from there, you can be from anywhere, but it allows us to come together and celebrate humanity.”
Raising more than $700,000 throughout the night, the event kicked off with a VIP reception and silent auction.
Next, came the welcome program, packed with performances, including: violin and marimba group Vision Duo; the Christylez Bacon Quintet, featuring the beatbox and freestyle maestro collaborating with local and global artists; and the Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs — Children of the Gospel Choir and Men and Women of the Gospel Choir — in a moment that brought the entire audience to their feet.
The gala also celebrated the Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs, which are celebrating 30 years in 2023, and honored Mars, Incorporated for its decadeslong support of and collaborations with WPA.
Through a partnership with WPA, in 2013 Mars Arts D.C. was born, and since, presented more than 650 artists with opportunities throughout all eight of the District’s wards.
While still raving about the astounding talent they just witnessed and beautiful tribute to Mars, attendees shifted spaces for the live auction while being served a Ridgewells catered, marvelous multi-course meal, perfectly paired with suggested wines. There was scrumptious seared tuna over an avocado mash, short rib, a truffle option for vegetarians that almost tasted and definitely looked like meat, and a tart filled with fruit and other delectable tasty treats.
With bellies full and hundreds of thousands spent in the auction, guests dashed to the after party where they stopped by the photobooth and open bar before dancing the night away to the live tunes of The Experience Band and Show.
In a moment that perfectly captured the spirit of WPA, the band asked Christylez Bacon to hop on the mic for a freestyle, an offer the Grammy-nominated artist couldn’t resist.
“Christylez Bacon in the WPA. Got the whole band, you don’t need a DJ. Man over here and he’s on the PA. Listen to the stuff here that we say,” were some of the off-the-dome bars the celebrated artist from Southeast dropped.
As the evening drew closer to midnight, guests, such as Ashley Jemison, who came all the way from California, spotlighted the fantastic fun and underscored the importance of the event overall.
“My sister and my brother-in-law are co-chairs for the Washington Performing Arts Gala,” said Jemison, who is a full-time saxophonist in California. “This was my first gala ever and I was absolutely blown away. The performances from the beginning to the end were absolutely amazing. And just it being the fact that it’s an event to give back to the arts is amazing.”
The California musician’s sister, Racquel Jemison, said she and her husband André Lewis were happy to serve as first-time co-chairs for this year’s gala.
“It’s an honor to support an organization that gives so much to its city. We love the unique way in which it pulls so many different art forms, music forms, genres, dance — gets really creative with the artists that it brings in and partners with, and the engagement with students and schools, especially the embassy program and Children of the Gospel Choir, those kids have my heart,” she said.
The event’s co-chair also emphasized that WPA has “something for everyone.”
“WPA is unique in the sense that it doesn’t have one designated performance venue. So they have the opportunity to move around to different venues that fit the artists, that fits the vibe of the night that they’re trying to go to,” she said. “If you want something formal at the Kennedy Center, you can get that. If you want something in a barrel room at a distillery, you can get that. It’s like everything and in between.”
As a champion for the organization, Ashe shared why others should tap into WPA programming and had one clear message: “Support the arts.”
“I think of all the scary, terrible things that are happening in the world — across demographics, and across religions, spectrums and political beliefs— arts unite people and we need more of that, and I think that’s a beautiful thing to support.”