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‘Fun’ fundraiser for Riverside Theatre returns

BY JED MILLER | FEBRUARY 27, 2009 7:30 AM

Tonight, a community of people who usually sit shoulder to shoulder and stare straight ahead will get a chance to meet face to face.

The hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St., will serve as the setting for Riverside Theatre’s largest annual fundraiser, Diamonds or Denim. Tickets are $45, and the event will begin today at 6 p.m.

The name “Diamonds or Denim” was chosen to show that this soirée is no black-tie event.
“It’s really just a fun party,” said Jody Hovland, the Riverside Theatre artistic director.

Riverside started Diamonds or Denim as a fundraiser to help the theater purchase a heating and air conditioning system. Seventeen years later, the event is now its primary yearly fundraiser.

Riverside’s development director, Sara O’Leary, estimated the event will raise between $55,000 and $60,000, around half of Riverside’s budget. The rest of the theater’s funds come from other small benefits, grants, and donor solicitations.

Diamonds or Denim will start out with a silent auction. Maggie Mowery will play piano, and a barbershop quartet will serenade guests. There will be artwork, tickets to entertainment venues, and items autographed by such celebrities as Daniel Radcliffe, Dallas Clark, and, of course, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

The night’s main event will be the live auction. Sharpless Auctions will run that portion of the evening, and Hovland described the auctioneers as “auction-entertainers.” They will auction 25 attention-grabbing items in 90 minutes, including a giant ampersand from the former Iowa State Bank and Trust, a concert in which guests choose the set list, and trips across the country. Riverside chose Sharpless Auctions because of its ability to get the audiences hyped and ready to bid.

“We had a sushi-making party at Takanami one year that was valued at maybe $300, and it went for $1,500, because we had six different people in the ballroom who wanted that sushi party,” O’Leary said.

The live auction will focus more on experiences rather than items, she said.

“It’s not just something that you can go to a store and buy,” she said. “We try to have some unique items that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Hovland credits Diamonds or Denim’s success to contributions from Iowa City businesses and individuals.

“The community is remarkably generous,” she said. “Sometimes, we get calls from businesses or individuals who we thought we were giving a break by not asking them for something, and they’ll say ‘Aren’t you going to ask for something this year?’ ”

O’Leary shares Hovland’s sentiments and appreciates residents’ eagerness to contribute in light of recent hardships.

“I was concerned this year because of the flood and the general condition of the economy — it’s just overwhelming how generous this community is,” she said. “I think they appreciate what Riverside Theatre does for the community, and I think they want to see this event and the theater itself succeed. That’s just incredibly heartwarming each year, the number of yesses we get.”


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