Seeing red

Mary Jo Marshall in red dress
Red is a confidence color: Mary Jo Marshall models an outfit from Honeypot.

Being a top arts town — American Style has us second behind Santa Fe — takes more than buying an easel or learning a few dance steps. The Asheville Area Arts Council is an umbrella organization for educational programs, grants, classes and workshops, the Urban Trail and more — and none of that comes cheap.

Which brings us to the Red Hot Ball. In past years it’s been the Green Ball and the Blue Ball (open to interesting interpretations, no?), but whatever hue festoons the fifth annual AAAC benefit gala — what happens when they run out of primary colors? — it’s a serious party for arts supporters.

Tales from the party between parties

2005 Ball
Scenes from last year’s Ball. Last year’s Ball photos by Scott Smith

Pretty much every nonprofit comes saddled with its fair share of fund-raising requirements, but rarely does “fun” figure much into it: Just try tuning into PBS during the TV station’s annual fund drive. But when AAAC began stumping for cash to cover programming costs, they decided not to go the Lawrence Welk-rerun route.

“The original concept was, ‘How can we do something that supports the arts and pulls the community together?'” says Red Hot Ball Chair Sheryl Near. “It involves everyone. It’s a whole citywide event for a month.”

Leading up to the Ball, downtown-Asheville businesses decorate their windows in the color of choice. This year brought a Red Ball fashion show featuring style-forward attire (red, of course) from local boutiques. And on the night of the party, even those without a high-dollar Ball ticket still benefit from what Near calls “the party between the parties” — musical and theatrical acts designed to entertain Arts Council supporters as they walk (or catch a trolley ride) between venues.

Cue the theme music

This year’s Ball includes five different ways to be entertained. Patrons (that’s a $150 ticket) get started an hour-and-a-half earlier at the Red Rage (held at Jubilee!), with entertainment by the newly revived Rebelles Burlesque troupe. Later, they can wander between the other fetes before making their way down to the Orange Peel for the finale.

Those who purchase the general ticket choose between three pre-finale events — each with its own theme, music and specialty drink (Pele’s Passion and Scarlet Bubble among the offerings): Wisdom (at 81 Broadway) with the Asheville Symphony String Quartet; Fascination Street (Haywood Park Hotel Ballroom) with DJ Stowy spinning Euro, new wave and electro; or Lava (S&W Cafeteria) with tribal drummers and fire dancers. Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance adds yet another option with a performance of its current production, Cabaret KiKi.

Though hors d’oeuvres and exotic drinks are offered in abundance, the 900-guest happening, via enthusiastic volunteerism, actually carries a small price tag for organizers — the better to reap the rewards of the $75 general ticket.

Near estimates last year’s event raised about $70,000 for AAAC. This year’s proceeds, the agency’s Web site explains, “will allow the Arts Council to offer more funding for all of [its] programs. Additionally, the AAAC plans to develop an artist resource center, where professional artists can have access to computers, software, and other technology, to facilitate the business of their art.”

An excuse to step out in crimson attire may be enough for some partygoers. But if you need to know what you’re supporting, check out ashevillearts.com.


The Red Hot Ball happens Saturday, June 24. Parties begin at 7:30 p.m. (patron party kicks off at 6 p.m.). For tickets ($75 and $150), call 258-0710, ext. 106.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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