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Empire Arts Center takes a new approach to fundraising with art deco dinner and dance

The Empire Arts Center is taking a new approach to fundraising with an art deco themed dinner and dance to be held April 26 at the Alerus Center.

“We really want to get away from the dinner, silent auction formula for fundraisers,” said director Emily Burkland. “Those events are effective, and they’re great events, …. but I think the community is a little saturated with events like that right now.”

Instead, the Empire staff has planned an event that centers on its mission of promoting entertainment, culture and the arts. They have invited the James Gerard Orchestra, an 11-piece big dance band from Philadelphia, Penn., to perform, and they are planning to transform the Alerus Center into an art deco paradise.

Burkland said the goal was to create an event that appealed to all ages and “put the fun back in fundraiser.”

“The millennial generation is willing and ready to give and support nonprofits and charity,” she said. “They’re just looking for the right way to do it, and I think an event like this appeals more to people in our generation than an auction.”

Once attendees arrive at the event, Burkland said they will not be asked to reach into their pockets or pull out their wallets.

“There’s not going to be a raffle, no silent auction, no live auction, no direct ask,” she said. “It’s all about showing up and having a good time.”

Instead, attendees will be supporting the Empire with their $125 tickets. Burkland said the goal is to raise $45,000, which will help the Empire Theatre Company raise its production value with better sets, better equipment and higher pay for the actors and musicians. Funds also will go toward touring the company’s productions throughout rural North Dakota and other programming at the Empire.

“We’re growing so much and so quickly,” Burkland said. “The way that we’ll use that money will benefit us and the community 10 times over. It’s really and truly an investment.”

Burkland said the event, which has been in the planning stages for nearly two years, is attracting a lot of attention. With more than a month until the event, they’ve already sold about 350 of the 500 tickets, and she’s confident the tickets will sell out before April 26.

“It’s just going to be 500 people having a blast,” she said. “It’s going to be great.”

Since the dinner and dance couldn’t feasibly be held at the Empire, Burkland said they are trying to incorporate the spirit of the venue into the event, and they are doing so with the art deco theme.

“We want people to walk into the Alerus Center ballroom and feel like they’re in a whole other world,” Burkland said. “They’re not at the Alerus Center anymore; they’re at the art deco Jay Gatsby mansion.”

While Burkland expects some people to dress for the theme, she said it’s not necessary.

“It’s not a black-tie event,” she said. “We’re calling it black-tie optional,” she said.

The highlight of the event will be the James Gerard Orchestra, which played at Joe Biden’s inaugural ball in 2009.

“Some people in town have seen them before and they rave… ‘You will not sit down for four hours’ and ‘even the old and decrepit were dancing,’” Burkland said.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at

Jasmine Maki
Jasmine Maki is a features reporter for Accent. Her main beats are arts and entertainment and life and style. She also occasionally covers health, family and TV.
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