The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is the nation’s largest private conservation grant maker working with both the public and private sectors to restore the nation’s fish, wildlife, plant and habitats. Annually, the NFWF hosts its largest fundraising event, “Celebrating the Great Outdoors,” and BlackHouse was tasked with mapping new ground (literal and figurative) for their 2018 gala.
For much of its history, the annual event had been hosted at a private estate located in Greenwich, CT. The verdant rolling grounds of the historic home capped with late summer skies had set a backdrop that many from the NFWF and its supporters had become accustom to and associated with the convivial gathering. To set a new stage, the NFWF chose to move the gala from its traditional roots to one of the world’s most iconic spaces, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Once the new locale had been decided upon, both the NFWF and AMNH needed a production team with the creative savvy and technical prowess to reinvent a long-established tradition. Enter BlackHouse. Our great colleagues at the AMNH quickly reached out to us to assist them and the NFWF to break new ground. We were honored and thrilled to accept the call.
At the start, the biggest hill on the horizon was the event’s new location which posed a very unique challenge – to bring the outdoors indoors. In its previous iterations, the NFWF had used the natural setting of the event to speak to its mission of environmental restoration, a point that they were insistent upon maintaining. Even with the Museum being an emblem of nature and its importance, the challenge was already steep. But, there was yet another obstacle to navigate. Each year, the NFWF gala concluded with a firework and musical display, which is famously known as the largest in the state of CT. Recreating this between four walls was also a non-negotiable point for the client.
Now with a good lay of the land, we started with concept and creative direction. The maritime theme of the event spoke to its honorees, Mark & Ray Dalio, for their great work with (our newest Tribe members) the team at Oceanx. To introduce this theme throughout the space, we started with the lighting design. Custom installations and color scheme were used to begin the creation of a natural seascape within the indoor space. nTo further draw in guests, we built a live component to the event using a full roster of over 20 performers (many free from their posts on Broadway as the event took place on a Monday!). Collectively they created a cast of mythical sea rulers and their tribe(!!). The performers greeted and guided guests throughout the event in stunning and custom-made costumes.
With the tone set, our next aim was to genuinely bring guests fathoms below. In the Hall of Ocean Life, we installed walls of HD screens immersing the guests in custom-made video content of aquatic scenes and wildlife. The moment guests entered the space was unlike anything created for the NFWF gala since its inception. Despite having these components in place, we weren’t out of rough waters yet. We still had the added task of producing an indoor fireworks display and concert. The already installed HD walls were the perfect tool for the fireworks, but we wanted to offer more than just canned musical accompaniment beside them. It had been made known to us that the honorees, Mark and Ray Dalio, shared a deep love for New Orleans and its rich arts culture. In particular, they were both fans and benefactors of the Preservation Hall Theatre and its traditional jazz ensemble of the same namesake. As a tribute to the Dalios and to blow the finale out of the water (so to speak), BlackHouse coordinated to have the Preservation Hall Band perform live for the event’s surprise splashy finale. Through savvy planning, sheer determination, and a touch of luck (it helps to know the owner of a jet), we were able to fly the band in just for the event, pulling them off tour on a 36hr turn-around. In a moment of flawless choreographed timing, the band was revealed and the “fireworks” were set-off giving way to a display never seen in the NFWF’s history.
In the end, BlackHouse was able to put the right people in the places leading to a resounding success. The evening raised over 3 million dollars, the largest amount ever raised in the history of the NFWF gala. The experience set a new precedence for the future and we’re proud and honored to already be at the helm of the 2019 gala. Most importantly, the teams at both the NFWF and AMNH felt like heroes, which was and is always our aim.