In the minds of many Nashvillians, Nashville CARES and Artrageous are almost interchangeable. And that’s just fine with everyone involved.
The 21-year-old fundraiser is only a couple of years younger than the organization itself, and is widely credited with saving it from an early demise. From that first event in 1987, Artrageous has evolved into an annual event in its own right, expanding and contracting over the years, producing an estimated $2 million over two decades to support Nashville CARES’ education and support programs.
“It’s a testament to the commitment and dedication of the volunteers, and also an example of the commitment of our donor base, which has continued to provide support to use through the ups and downs of this epidemic,” said Joseph Interrante, chief executive officer of Nashville CARES.
Just as important, he adds, the event also serves to expand awareness of the agency and its services to all segments of the community.
“Special events like this have a much broader audience than the people who are just supporting it because of the focus on HIV/AIDS and Nashville CARES,” he says. “Artrageous functions as a gateway for people who are new to Nashville, or people that don’t know so much about us. The event is known as one of the best parties of the year, and one of the most inventive, creative and enjoyable, so it becomes an opportunity for us to expand our base of ongoing supporters. It’s a wonderful point of entry, and it lets us build the support to do what we do.”
Like any other long-term event, Artrageous has endured its share of change. Until recently, the after-party was dominating more and more of the evening, becoming a lavish – and costly — spectacle that some felt overshadowed the gallery tours that were the event’s original heart. Organizers responded, and this year the gallery tours are taking more pride of space, with the after-party still a key component but on a more equal footing with the tours.
“Any event has a certain shelf life, and this reinvention is a part of that,” said Suzanne Bradford, who has been involved with Artrageous for 10 years and served as event co-chair in 2003. “Over the first 10 years it grew from a small, intimate crowd to more and more people, which led to more galleries taking part and an expanded venue for the late party. Now it’s getting back to its core, to the galleries, and is less of a production at the end of the night.”
When the books are closed it’s all about the money raised for the charity, a fact that escapes no one’s attention.
“We want to bring in as much as we can, and that’s the challenge every year,” Bradford said. “That’s not something that’s going to change.”
Any worthwhile fundraiser, especially one that’s lasted more than two decades, has to shake itself up on a regular basis, Interrante said.
“They have to see if they’re still meeting the intended goals,” he said. “Artrageous did that two or three years ago, and that involved a serious analysis of the event itself, a look at the net amount raised in relation to the gross and a look at the way the event promotes itself and the mission of Nashville CARES, which it supports.”
The end result of all that internal reflection was a leaner, stripped down event that is expected to generate more cash for its chosen charity.
“They’re back to their roots, focusing on the galleries who are so generously donating themselves to be part of the event,” Interrante said. “They’re also tying the event more clearly into our mission, which means getting out more information on Nashville CARES and what it does. The process of reexamination and reinvention has been extraordinarily successful for the event, because the last three years have been terrific and this year we’re certain that it will be again.”