Annual Ball raises eyebrows, money


Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

By Hope Smith

For more than 40 years, Lexington has been hosting the same charity event. Yet, every year is just as unpredictable as the last.

Beaux Arts Ball isn’t your typical charity event. It’s been described more like a raging dance party where attendees have so much fun bouncing around all night to thumping bass in their kooky costumes with friends they forget they’re actually helping people in the process. And no two years have ever been the same.

UK design students and volunteers help to organize the event and each year the venue and charities have varied.

Last year, the venue now known as Buster’s Billiard’s and Backroom was home to Beaux Arts Ball. As some may recall, it was then an empty, old warehouse that no one seemed to have cared about for years. Beaux Arts Ball 2009 brought hundreds to love the structure and everything inside of it, and nearly 3,000 people attended.

This year, UK’s College of Design and Beaux Arts Ball director Laurel Christiansen found a larger venue, also in the Distillery District, to house its annual fundraiser blowout — the Pepper Warehouse. What was once a bourbon distillery and storage facility will, for one night only, be transformed.

“We were drawn to Manchester Street because it’s the progressive side of the city,” John Buckman, co-director of Beaux Arts Ball and UK telecommunications junior, said. “We can tie into the history of Lexington … and it’s such a cool building.”

One of the area’s primary developers and owner of the Pepper Warehouse, Barry McNees, has been more than accommodating to Beaux Arts Ball organizers for the last two years, Buckman said, making sure he provided the right venue at a reasonable rate.

“He’s very understanding of the arts community,” Buckman said of McNees. “It’s not just the hotels, conglomerates, and expensive lofts that make a city. It’s the vibrant scene that you build from the ground up.”

The Pepper Warehouse is a space that can hold over 3,000 people, which will organizers hope will allow everyone who wants to participate to filter in all night. The venue also has large indoor and outdoor spaces where attendees can check out acts on two different stages.

“There will be more electronic music in the main room, with the flashing lights and the big speakers,” Buckman said. “But we wanted to give people some wiggle room. If you’re dancing too hard, go outside and chill out for a little while … the outside has a more organic feel.”

The music, while keeping with the modern, energetic feel, is a little more varied than usual. In recent years there has been a strong focus on electronic acts, ready to keep those in attendance cavorting into the wee hours of the morning. This year will be host to more of the same, but also some folk-pop and reggae, Buckman said.

Beaux Arts Ball booking manager Brock Ward worked with Buckman as well as stage manager Matti Pauli in putting together the music lineup that will grace the Ball, and he was optimistic about the host of acts slated to perform.

“I think this is by far the best lineup Beaux Arts Ball has seen to date. But that’s my opinion,” Ward said.

The night’s headliner is an Australian artist most aren’t familiar with, but Sam La More has contributed some pretty big numbers. He’s mixed songs for artists as big as Gwen Stefani, Black Eyed Peas and Pussycat Dolls.

Local favorites like Dinosaurs & Disasters and Amtrak will have play time, as well as The Seedy Seeds, who like to keep it interesting with a whole slew of instruments, some conventional, and some not so much.

There is more to absorb at Beaux Arts Ball than weird costumes and good music. A Louisville graffiti artist will be producing his art live, sideshow acts promise to mesmerize, and a massive, 8-foot-tall robot, weighing over one ton, is designed to steadily break down over time as it is roaming around, Buckman said. And then there’s the annual drag show, which has become a fan-favorite.

“It’s always one of the highlights … they just rock the crowd,” Buckman said. “People who think they’ll hate it end up talking about it for weeks. I’ve heard people say whenever they hear a certain song on the radio, they think of a number from one of the drag shows and smile.”

It might not seem like it at first, but behind all this absurdity and fun is a crowd of individuals committed to making a difference in our community. Since its start in 1969, Beaux Arts Ball has been a fundraiser first and a musical, artistic masquerade second. All benefits from the ticket sales go to art programs in Lexington.

The Living Arts & Science Center is the Ball’s main beneficiary, followed by Art In Motion and The Foundation For Advanced Architecture. Donations often help with projects that offer children ways to express themselves artistically where they normally would not have the means to do so, Buckman said.

The Ball has also served to benefit domestic issues such as violence, as well as organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Sunflower Kids.

“This speaks volumes to Lexington’s youth and its ability to organize an event of this magnitude,” Buckman said. “There’s something to be said for the benefits of the arts and the community.”

Last year, Beaux Arts Ball raised about $45,000 for the art community. This is an easy way for people who might otherwise be uncomfortable at an average fundraiser or who may not have a large amount of money to give to help out, Buckman said. This year, organizers hope to raise even more with a larger venue and more diverse range of acts. If all goes as planned, there is a possibility that the Pepper Warehouse might be used again for other events, but organizers believe this will be the largest group to convene there.

“I’m not sure where else in Lexington people get together in groups of this size, besides maybe Keeneland,” Buckman said. “There’s really no legit business big enough to hold us.”

Doors will open at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 10 at the Pepper Warehouse located at 1200 Manchester St. Attendees must be 18 or older to enter. Tickets cost $25 presale and $30 at the door, and can be purchased online or at several other locations. For details on transportation Beaux Arts Ball as well as ticket information, visit