35 years ago, the Greenhill Gala, then known as an “auction,” was modest: a potluck meal brought in by guests, a makeshift stage in the Greenhill cafeteria or gym, and a hired auctioneer.
Things, however, have changed. The gala now is held at a venue with tickets ranging from 150 to 200 dollars a ticket. The Parents’ and Teachers’ Association works hard to find entertainers that will draw large crowds and thousands of dollars worth of prizes are donated by alumni and the parents of Greenhill students.
The gala auction is the most lucrative of only three fundraisers held by the Parents’ Association, bigger than the Greenhill Fund and the Cheer Fund. The gala auction’s total dollars raised varies from year to year. Depending on a variety of factors, net profits usually range from a quarter million dollars to more than a million dollars.
With the Gala growing more and more luxurious every year, the organizers of the gala face a balancing act of whether to let the gala auction be an event that is open to all members of the community, regardless of economic status, while also giving Greenhill the best chance to maximize funding.
“I have concerns about the idea of the gala because I worry that it is no longer something that everybody in the community can be a part of,” Assistant Head of School Tom Perryman said.
Mr. Perryman has attended almost every gala auction for the last 30 years and has seen the development of the event. He questions whether an event with such exclusionary ticket prices are truly what is representative of the Greenhill community.
According to Director of Special Events & Parents’ Association Liaison, Theresa Jones, the term “gala” does not refer singularly to the auction that is held in the early spring. The gala is a type of season and ranges all the way from August to May, throughout the whole school year. Movie and casino nights held in the quad are part of that gala season. This year, there will be a snow day at Greenhill, with snow machines being brought in to create a winter environment on February 10.
All of these smaller events have prices that are significantly lower than the typical cost of an individual ticket to the gala, and are meant to give every member of the community a chance to participate in the gala season.
“We have opportunities that everyone can participate in. So by participating in any of those things, there are other ways to help with the PA and fundraising,” Ms. Jones said.
Parents’ Association President Manisha Desai said that The Gala auction organizers try to make the opportunity available to everyone.
“For those who have difficulty with that price point, they can always contact the financial office to have that discussion,” Mrs. Desai said.
According to Ms. Jones, even the full price of an individual ticket is actually a bargain if all the costs per person are estimated.
“A four-course dinner and drinks and world-class entertainment. I think the price point of that ticket would be about 220, 230 [dollars],” said Ms. Jones when referring to the estimated price that a ticket would cost if all the amenities were added up.
This year’s gala auction at the Omni Hotel in downtown is expected to be more formal than last year’s event in the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center (MPAC). The Omni, besides the Hilton Anatole, is the only venue in Dallas with a big enough ballroom to accommodate this year’s guests.
The Omni is able to accommodate twice as many guests and more seating will allow for a sit-down dining experience as opposed to last year’s appetizers. This year’s gala auction is also meant to be a send-off for Head of School Scott Griggs so the event is intentionally being planned to be grander, according to the Gala Chair Michael Harrington.
Hit-band “Earth, Wind, and Fire” will be playing at the Omni but the cost of their performance was not paid for by Greenhill and is not reflected in the ticket price that seven hundred people have purchased. The band was underwritten by alumni along with many of the auction prizes.
According to Mrs. Desai, the biggest object that will be on the stage of the auction this year is a Lexus donated by the company. The car will not be bidded on but instead will be dealt in a raffle format, with raffle tickets costing 100 dollars, according to Ms. Jones.
She anticipates that there will be more than 40,000 dollars sold in raffle tickets.
Story by Stephen Crotty
Originally published in the February 2018 print issue