In an ode to New York City, the annual event raised $126 million and gave BizBash an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what it took to pull off this year’s fundraiser.
NEW YORK—As New York City sees the other side of a global pandemic, fundraising for families in need is more important than ever. As one of the most prominent charitable nonprofits in the city, the Robin Hood Foundation invested $171.6 million to 425 organizations over the course of 2021, and set the precedent for an even more philanthropic year in 2022 with its annual benefit on May 9.
The Robin Hood Benefit, which took place at the Javits Center, raised a record-breaking $126 million throughout the course of the evening, which took attendees on a journey—literally—from NYC’s iconic skyline to outer space. Upon arrival, guests walked through an archway with 5,200 pairs of Bombas socks configured into a Manhattan cityscape (the socks were donated to homeless shelters the following day). And by the end of the night, a live auction for a trip to space with Blue Origin sold for $8 million. The “buy-one-give-one” ticket allowed winning bidder Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel LLC, to give one seat to an NYC public school teacher. However, at Griffin’s request, both seats on the next Blue Origin mission to space will be occupied by NYC public school teachers in thanks to their commitment to furthering education.
Moving videos showcasing Robin Hood’s philanthropic efforts were sprinkled throughout the night’s programming, which also included a live performance by Charlie Puth—who was accompanied by a student chorus from Staten Island’s PS22 elementary school in a tear-jerking rendition of “See You Again.” Additionally, co-chair Mark Bezos spoke about his experience with the organization while detailing his life-altering journey to space. A replica of Blue Origin’s New Shephard crew capsule also served as a memorable photo op, and John Legend ended the evening with an intimate concert. And as the 3,000 guests exited the venue, the Empire State Building shined in Robin Hood-green in the ultimate lasting impression. But what does it really take to pull off such a high-profile event?
For the first time, BizBash got a behind-the-scenes look at the annual production back from its blueprint stages. The event has taken place at the Javits Center for the past 15-plus years, and the large-scale space has historically served as the Robin Hood Benefit’s venue because it can “accommodate our footprint of over 300,000-plus square feet on the same level,” said Lindsay Carroll, Robin Hood’s head of marketing and events. “It serves as a blank slate from which we can create a distinctive look, feel, and experience.” Carroll also noted that the convention center “took on a deeper meaning during the pandemic after it was converted to a field hospital and then a vaccination center,” bonding it even more with Robin Hood through a shared “philosophy of doing what we can to support our city.”
From that blank slate, the benefit took about six months to create, in what Carroll referred to as a “historic turnaround” due to a COVID-induced postponement of the 2021 benefit. “As a result, we had to dig deep and get creative,” Carroll said. Spike Brant of Nimblist, Robin Hood’s production partner, divulged that the team gets “six days from the start of the floor mark-out to show time,” further emphasizing that “every minute counts.”
Brant said of the hustle: “To load in a show of this scale—essentially transforming two large exhibits into a high-end dining and entertainment venue—we run two fully staffed shifts per day at 11 hours each. … It becomes a total of 15 shifts over the seven-day horizon between load-in and closing the door on the last truck the day after the event.”
The biggest challenge? “The creative, technical, and logistical road maps (that) have gone through months of planning and revisions leading into the first day on-site,” Brant said, adding that road bumps, which “can carry significant implications to staying on schedule and in budget,” are always a looming concern.
But once logistics are out of the way, longtime event designer of the star-studded evening, David Stark of Brooklyn-based David Stark Design and Production, works his magic. This year, that included the construction of a collage of windows projecting different views of the beloved Big Apple in the 32,200-square-foot cocktail hour space. “For us, the windows of New York City became a poetic and conceptual collage, allowing us to frame hundreds of views and perspectives of the city we love—its people, its sites, its architecture, its details, its humanity, its schools, even its locations where New Yorkers give back and help others,” Stark said. He added of the theme: “Our goal was to evoke that age-old adage, ‘Windows are the eyes of a city.’”
Interestingly, Stark noted that he sets out “not to decorate the cavernous rooms at the Javits Center or simply entertain the people.” Instead, his “goal is to create the right setting, overflowing with meaning for our evening’s program.” With this mindset, Stark and his team “work quite hard to make each year very different, filled with surprises and unexpected details (…) while supporting the mission of the Robin Hood Foundation.”
As far as design highlights, Stark cited “the glorious shadow play of fantastic string musicians on the platforms in the cocktail space.”
For Carroll, she said that the 2022 Robin Hood Benefit will be memorable for its “star power, scale, and performances,” noting that the benefit raises year-round awareness for the organization due to its “stories of the individuals and organizations we support (shared) through films and on-stage remarks.” Thoughtfully leveraged to provide a window into Robin Hood’s work, the annual event is all about “an opportunity to be in the room with so many of our donors and community partners who make our impact possible,” Carroll said. “This authentic connection allowed for inspiring moments that I hope will leave a lasting impression.”
See below for a full list at the vendors who contributed to the benefit’s memorable moments, and keep scrolling for more before-and-after photos from forethought to function.
December 5, 2022