The Museum for African Art at 110th Street and 5th Avenue

They pop up around the city in Bryant Park, Central Park, and on streets all up and down Manhattan.  They always inspire great curiosity from passersby who crane their necks to get a peek of what is happening under the big white tent.

Entering the Museum

Bowen & Company erected our very own bigtop this fall onsite at the new Museum for African Art in Harlem to host 450 guests for dinner to celebrate the Museum’s first annual Leaders in African Art and Philanthropy Awards.  The event began with cocktails and a silent auction inside the Museum’s not-yet-open-to-the-public building.  Translation:  construction zone.  This setting gave new meaning to the term “raw space.”

Dining with the Arturo O’Farrill Quartet

So how do you build an elegant gala venue on a construction site?  You begin by scaring out the pigeons that have taken up residence inside.  Then, you vacuum….the air, the floor, the walls, and any remaining pigeons.  (Just kidding!  No animals were harmed in the making of this event.)   You find clever ways to rope off open elevator shafts, heating ducts, and other pitfalls so that no guests or stilettos find their way in.  You embrace “construction chic” with its hanging electric cords, exposed beams, and leftover graffiti—including one naughty message we whitewashed last minute upon discovery.  You carry a hammer to deal with nails that are trying to escape from their posts.  Then, you use every available nook and cranny of a glorious wide open space, of which there are so few in New York City!  Caterer Ark Restaurants set up their kitchens in the Museum’s future theater and café.  The silent auction resided in the future education center.  A bar occupied the site of a future spiral staircase.  And, red carpet arrivals were made possible by throwing open the doors—we literally had to cut open the door and remove it from its hinges!   
Cocktails and Silent Auction

Following cocktails, guests were beckoned into the aforementioned tent for dinner, accompanied by Arturo O’Farrill—of Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra fame—and his Quartet.  This was a new domain that had been in preparation since 6:00am four days prior, when tent installation and road closures began.  A floor was built on top of the plaza and the Duke Ellington Circle outside the Museum and covered in plush violet-hued carpet.  Exotic florals by John Yarce of Organica NY decorated the tables, and small reminders that we were dining on the street peppered the dining room much to the enjoyment of guests:  a street sign, a lamppost, and six young trees to name a few. 

Stop…and Go to Dinner

All these distinctions are what made our event unique and memorable. In future years, we look forward to hosting many elegant affairs in the completed Robert A. M. Stern-designed Museum. But, this fall, we were able to provide our guests with a one-of-a-kind experience that can never be replicated.  So, embrace your space!  You and your guests will relish the results.

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Photographs Courtesy of André Maier LLC Photography