Three years after locals Kate Powell and Chris Espenshade founded the Pratt Contemporaries—an organization for young professionals with a passion for literacy that benefits the Enoch Pratt Free Library—the duo decided to take their fundraising efforts to the next level.
“They thought we should really have a party,” says Shelly Terranova, Enoch Pratt’s deputy director of institutional advancement. “The idea was to create a throwback to Truman Capote’s black and white ball in the ’60s.”
But the inaugural celebration, with an expected attendance upwards of 200 people, didn’t come without its hurdles. On the night of the soiree in January 2010, Charm City was dumped with nearly six inches of snow.
“There’s was this panic where they really didn’t know if anyone was going to come,” Terranova says. “But sure enough, everyone trudged in with their coats and their mittens and boots.”
As it has evolved throughout the past six years, both in size and community support, locals have continued to show up for the Pratt Contemporaries annual Black & White party—which returns to Enoch Pratt’s Central Library on January 28.
“It’s pretty amazing how much it’s grown,” Terranova says of the fundraiser, which is expected to host more than 900 attendees this year. “It all started with two women with one big goal who were just reaching out to their friends.”
Lauded as one of the hottest social events in the city (tickets for this year’s gala sold out in six minutes), the themed celebration features live music and eats and drinks from local vendors, all to benefit the library system’s programs for children and teens.
This time around, organizers have decided to work with an Alice in Wonderland motif: “We’re going with more of a grown-up interpretation,” Terranova says. “It’s going to be a little less storybook and a little more Tim Burton with a more fantastical touch.”
In keeping with the theme, the party will highlight tea-inspired fare from Copper Kitchen, and a slew of whimsical cocktails including a “MADhatten” made with Sagamore Spirit Rye, “The Blue Caterpillar” mixed with Blackwater Distilling’s Sloop Betty vodka, and the “Drink Me Potion” which will showcase The Baltimore Whiskey Company’s Shot Tower gin.
There will also be live music spun by DJ Kopec, shucks from The Local Oyster, a Pixilated photobooth, and plenty of teacup and flower-focused décor. Though specific details are still under wraps, Terranova assures that the party’s signature grand centerpiece (predecessors include tents with aerial performers and a massive Eiffel Tower) will be sure to impress.
This year, the organization has set a goal of raking in $150,000 to support library efforts including training teens in mixed-media programming, scheduling readings with nationally recognized authors (and providing transportation for youth to attend), and diversifying the young adult collections at various branches. Says Terranova: “We want to make sure that they see kids like themselves in the books that they read.”
The event comes at a particularly transformative time for the library, which recently saw the departures of longtime CEO Carla Hayden and director of communications Roswell Encina, who both moved on to serve at the Library of Congress last year.
In addition, with a multi-million dollar construction project slated to get underway at the Central Library later in 2017, the gala will be forced to move to a new venue in the coming years.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Terranova says. “But we’re going to work hard to find a [temporary] space that accommodates our guests.”
Remodeling plans for the 84-year-old Cathedral Street landmark include energy-efficient electric systems, a revamped auditorium and career center, additional computers with the latest sound and video editing software, and an entire study wing dedicated to young adults. Renovations are slated to be complete in 2020.
Though the library is in the midst of some major changes, Terranova says that organizers remain enthusiastic about the ever-popular party, which kicks off the Pratt Contemporaries’ 10th anniversary year.
“It’s really affirming to see how this little party has grown into such a place to be,” she says. “Our hope is that folks continue to engage with us year round to deepen their connections to the library.”