Earn a purple heart

Purple, though most often favored by 12-year-old girls who also love unicorns and Hello Kitty, occasionally finds its way into fashion. There was a time when local Old Farmer’s Ball regulars (male and female) sported purple socks with their contra-dance apparel. It’s been associated both with the psychedelic 1960s and the MTV-obsessed 1980s. Poet Jenny Joseph famously declared, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” Even designer Vera Wang has her Lavender Label (ironically, it offers no purple shades in the 2008 collection).

Scenes from a ball: Models show off the latest in purple-wear. Photos By Maggie West

Still, there’s something exciting about an entire event decked out in monochromatic style. Even if that hue happens to be Crayola’s “Purple Mountain’s Majesty,” a shade soon to be invoked by the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Purple Ball gala.

The annual fundraiser, now in its seventh incarnation, announces a new theme color each year. Past events have been tricked out in orange, blue, pink, green, red and white. “The color really brands the party,” says AAAC representative Maggie Huppi.

It’s a simple enough concept: a lavish party divided into smaller sub-fêtes held throughout downtown. At the end of the evening, revelers from the mini-soirées gather for one final blowout. Food is plentiful, wine and mixed drinks flow limitlessly and generous arts patrons are moved to give to a worthy cause—the AAAC’s many arts education programs.

In fact, last year’s ball (white was the theme) raised between $60,000 and $70,000 to fund grants for artists, teachers and local organizations providing arts programming. This year’s goal, Huppi reports, is $100,000 from ticket sales.

“There are lots of golf tournaments and one-night galas in the area,” notes annual ball coordinator Nicole Riley. “But this event offers something different: four parties throughout Asheville.”

She points to the sheer level of celebration these balls reach. Each party is decorated to the hilt; every moment is infused with music and entertainment. And then there’s the inner-circle feel achieved not just by holding a ticket, but by rubbing elbows with group after group of partygoers clad in the color of the moment.

On the catwalk: More fundraiser-ready looks from the Purple Ball Fashion Show.

To hype the event, the AAAC initiated a pre-ball fashion show several years back. This year’s Purple Ball fashion show, held at the Renaissance Hotel ballroom in April, sent local boutiques, designers and models down the runway in all manner of plum, grape and violet. “People are excited from the fashion show about buying their purple clothes to wear,” Huppi says. “The color theme helps to keep everything new and fresh. It’s something people can easily recognize.”

And the theme translates to the parties, too. This year brings patron event “Violet Femme” (held at Scandals) with music by Holiday Childress and a performance by the men of Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance. “Purple Reign” (at Nashwa Nightclub) takes its cues from 15th-century courtesans while “IndiGo” (at the Haywood Park Hotel Atrium) is a Bollywood-flavored blowout. The “Ultra-Violet” finale (in the Haywood Park Hotel) celebrates cyberspace and electronica. It’s an evening of fantasy made real, all for a good cause.

But how, exactly, do these big-budget, over-the-top gatherings manage to raise money? Huppi chalks it up to “faithful sponsors,” naming both long-term donors such as the Grove Park Inn and newcomers like Charlotte Street Computers, who contribute services and high-ticket items. “A lot of what would typically be our major costs have been donated,” Huppi explains. Food and drink are included in that category, with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails provided by a host of local eateries and vendors. Even transportation can be gifted: This year, theatrical tour company LaZoom’s appropriately purple bus will shuttle ball attendees between events.

Raising money is an important part of the evening, but ticket holders needn’t concern themselves with crunching numbers. Once the price of entry is paid, the ball is all about a decadent good time. “Downtown retailers get involved, decorating their storefront windows,” Riley notes. The Arts Council holds an annual contest for the best retail window decoration in the color of the year. And, “Walking to party locations, the whole community is dressed up.”

She adds, “You can wear anything. You can be in jeans, you can be in a ball gown. It embodies the feel of Asheville.”

who: Purple Ball
what: Annual gala fundraiser for the Asheville Area Arts Council
where: Scandals, Nashwa Nightclub and Haywood Park Hotel.
when: Saturday, June 14. 6 p.m. (All-access patrons tickets are $175 in advance, $200 at the door. Tickets for Purple Reign and IndiGo are $100 and include admission to the finale. www.ashevillearts.com or 258-0710.)

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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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