- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

The Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington wants the world to know that this city is much more than just marble monuments and pols in dark suits.
"It's a living, breathing community that's very culturally sophisticated," said Louise Blais at "Art Beat 2002," the alliance's black-tie gala at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Thursday night. "We want to spotlight that."
Ms. Blais is the Canadian Embassy's cultural counselor and a board member of the alliance, which for 24 years has assisted hundreds of theater, dance, music and other arts organizations in the Washington area. It offers members such critical services as health insurance ("Who do you call when you really break a leg?" is the plan's advertising pitch), financial guidance and marketing assistance.
Jennifer Cover Payne, the alliance's executive director, said her organization is focusing on a "long-range strategic plan" to vigorously promote Washington's creative side.
Programs are sustained in part by the annual fund-raising dinner and auction, which honors members of the community "who have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of the region." The event this year drew about 400 supporters (who paid $150 or more for tickets), plus major contributions from Arthur Andersen, Lockheed Martin and other corporate benefactors.
The 2002 awards went to Alma and Joseph Gildenhorn, philanthropists extraordinaire, the Levine School of Music and Douglas H. Wheeler, president of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Other stalwarts and star patrons of the arts were on hand as well: Dorothy and William McSweeny (sharing a table with their friend Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet), Kay Kendall, Otto Ruesch, Ann Stock, Henry and Malan Strong, Calvin and Jane Cafritz, Norman and Winnie Portenoy, Olney Theatre artistic director Debra Kraft, Signature Theatre co-director Sam Sweet, and former honorees Gilbert and Jaylee Mead.
"These are the people that I've spent most of my career with," Mr. Wheeler said appreciatively at the silent auction before dinner.
Dessert was accompanied by a live auction of goodies that included a trip for two to Rome, tickets to the opening night of Stephen Sondheim's "Passion" next month at the Kennedy Center and the chance to conduct the University of Maryland marching band at the big game against Wake Forest in the fall, along with two VIP tickets to the game, a Terrapins jersey and a band hat.
The addition of the Terrapins to the program was doubtless inspired by the Gildenhorns. Mr. Gildenhorn, who served as an ambassador to Switzerland in the early '90s, met his wife when they were both students at the University of Maryland. The grateful couple has remembered the school handsomely since, evidenced by the recent opening of the Joseph & Alma Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the university's performing arts center. Mrs. Gildenhorn, who called the alliance's honor a "sweet accolade," concluded her short acceptance speech at the end of the evening with a playful "Go Terps."
Mr. Wheeler, who is stepping down after 32 years as head of the performing arts society in September, was humble. "I don't know what else to say about my career but that I've lost more money than anyone else in the name of great art," he joked before the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.

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