This year, the Gibbes Museum of Art's annual Gibbes on the Street fundraiser gets a Chinese makeover. Think Chinese lanterns, crab fried rice, Sichuan wontons, suckling pig steamed buns, and customized cocktails, the Red Lotus and Crouching Tiger, under the night sky and in front of the newly renovated museum. This will be a big year for the Gibbes, and the street party is the first of many opening events planned to launch the museum's $13.5 million, two-year renovation of the 111-year-old building.
"Hundreds of red lanterns will be lit, sounds of drums will beat, and vibrant visuals of reds and yellows will surround our guests," says Gibbes Museum Special Events Manager Jena Clem. "As décor continues to be delivered, my office walls seem to be gradually closing in. I've been dreaming of floating lanterns and traditional drummers for weeks, and I'll probably never be able to look at the color red again without thinking of China's Forbidden City."
From 2012-2015, I worked as the marketing manager for the museum, so I witnessed firsthand all the hard work that goes into this party. Teams of people who have been working behind the scenes for months come together to transform an entire block from a gray city street to a vivid dreamscape. The city allows just 1.5 hours to set up, and that time is like a beautifully choreographed performance of whirling bodies unloading glasses, hanging signs, wiring speakers, and cooking. The schedule is tight even for chefs who are used to fast-paced environments, but everyone effortlessly stretches themselves to make the event come together. Once the "door" officially opens, guests are swept up into a sensory overload of lights, sounds, and delicious smells.
Gibbes on the Street is a collaboration between the city, the restaurants, the volunteers, committee members, and the museum. This year, 27 restaurants, the highest number ever, are participating in the event. Each year Charleston Grill Executive Chef Michelle Weaver works with Charleston Grill General Manager Mickey Bakst to coordinate the Street Party menu. "The vivacious energy that is created by the music, food, and performances brings to life the best party of the year. As chefs we actually get to be right in the mix of this energy instead of being behind the scenes," Weaver says. "Every year the theme changes, so every year we get re-inspired to create and be a part of a wonderful celebration."
Chef Jacques Larson of Wild Olive and the Obstinate Daughter has participated in every event thus far. "I look forward to the Gibbes Street party each year because not only is it benefiting a pillar of the arts in our community, but it's a truly unique outdoor event that captures the festive energy of Charleston," he says.
The food is the main draw, but this year I have a feeling that a majority of guests will buy tickets to the Street Party because they are curious about the renovated museum. For two years, construction crews have been tearing down and building back every inch of the museum, and even though you won't be allowed inside, the Street Party is the first official kick off of the reopening countdown. On Sat. May 28 the doors will open and visitors will get to step inside to see the new Gibbes for themselves. The first floor will be free to the public, and will have classes, artist studios, a café, and a museum store. It will open to the redesigned garden in the courtyard where locals and visitors alike will be able to wander through a quiet green space in the middle of the city. The second and third floors will have expanded gallery and storage space, and new lighting, fresh paint, and tiled floors throughout the museum will enhance the experience of looking at art. Because that's why we go to a museum, right? To look at the art?
The expanded gallery space will allow for more art from the permanent collection to be on view, and curators Pam Wall and Sara Arnold have worked really hard to make the opening exhibitions The Things We Carry and Porgy and Bess exceed expectations. The community has been waiting for two years and will come with elevated expectations, and the seventh annual Gibbes on the Street party will be our first taste of what's to come.