‘Oasis: A Curated Dinner’ Raises $25,000 for Descanso Gardens

Juliann Rooke, Descanso Gardens Chief Operating Officer, and guest John D\'Angona(front) Ellen Melton, Jacqueline Swaidan, Tami Psaltis and Vita Avanesian; (back) Carol Jones and Kathleen SwaidanAndrew Salter, Peter Murphy, David Lamb and Descanso trustee Greg McLemoreAnn Murphy, Descanso Executive Director David R. Brown and Carin Salter. Both Murphy and Salter are members of the Descanso Gardens board of trustees.(front) Vita Avanesian, Georgic Avanesian, Jacqueline Swaidan, Kathleen Swaidan, Ellen Melton, Carol Jones, Tami Psaltis; (back) Karl Swaidan, Dr. Stephen Jones, Artie PsaltisDavid Brown (right) discussed the importance of public art over cocktails. Listening are Blythe and Heather Haaga and Denise and Don Hahn.Judy Brown, Descanso trustee Margaret Leong Checca and Executive Director David Brown chat before dinner. Judy Brown is David Brown’s wife.Seated at their table in the Sturt Haaga Gallery are Karl Swaidan, Artie Psaltis, Carol Jones and Kathleen SwaidanJohn D\'Angona, Judith Brown and John David O’Brien, curatorial coordinator of the galleryDescanso trustee Amy Lamb and her husband, David LambEllen Melton, Jacqueline Swaidan, Tami Psaltis and Vita Avanesian


12:33 pm | September 29, 2015

An oasis of cool on a warm autumn night, the Sturt Haaga Gallery was the inviting setting for Descanso Gardens’ intimate evening fundraiser, “Oasis: A Curated Dinner,” on Saturday, Sept. 26. Thirty-five people attended the $1,000-a-plate dinner which raised $25,000 for the gallery’s programming.

The 160-acre member-supported botanic garden opted to forego its traditional “Only at Descanso” gala this year in favor of more exclusive, intimate experiences, said Juliann Rooke, chief operating officer. “We like to try new things and shake up the old model of fundraising,” she said. “These smaller events allow us to provide a more intimate, meaningful experience for guests.” The gallery setting allowed guests the rare opportunity to dine while enjoying the artwork. The venue size meant seating was at a premium. She noted that the cocktail-themed fundraiser in May, Movers & Cocktail Shakers, got high marks from participants who liked the casual vibe and afterhours access to the historic Boddy House.

Saturday’s event drew inspiration from “Oasis,” the exhibition currently on view in the Sturt Haaga Gallery. The party began at the Center Circle, which currently features a low-water garden installation, where guests gathered for cocktails while David R. Brown, Descanso’s executive director, discussed public art and its relevance to Descanso. The current exhibit — the 12th since the gallery opened in September 2011 — includes artwork placed outside the traditional gallery setting and tucked away into the Descanso landscape.

The guests took a stroll through the twilight garden to see three of these outdoor artworks, then gathered for dinner in the gallery. An eclectic mix of tables were set with cool blue linens and topped with handcrafted terra cotta pots filled with succulents in shades in soft gray, rose and green. “We kept the decor very simple,” Rooke said. “We wanted the gallery to be the star.”

The dinner, prepared by Chef Mark Salazar of Patina Restaurant Group, included spinach risotto croquette, golden seared scallop with butternut squash puree and crispy bacon lardon, and veal cheek braised in port and plum. Some of the produce served was harvested at Descanso Gardens. The final “sweet tooth” course included coconut bavarois, yuzu gelee, passion mango sauce and pickled tropical fruit.

Rare bottles of wine donated from the private collections of Descanso board members were auctioned off in a silent auction throughout the evening. After dinner, guests lingered under the stars in an outdoor lounge set up in the Erskine Garden adjacent to the gallery. “The event was a real opportunity to be an insider with what’s going on in the Sturt Haaga Gallery,” Rooke said.

Founded as a public garden in 1953, Descanso Gardens is located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge. For information, call (818) 949-4200 or visit www.descansogardens.org. Descanso Gardens is a member-supported garden accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.