The Hylton Performing Arts Center Breaks Records with 12th Anniversary Gala

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The Hylton Performing Arts Center hosted a special two-day celebration with the Hylton Center 12th Anniversary Gala on April 29 and April 30. As the first Anniversary Gala held in-person since 2019, the event welcomed more than 1,000 guests and supported the Hylton Center’s mission of presenting diverse performances and programs of high quality and artistic excellence to inspire, educate, and enrich the community.

Erika Spalding, Vice President Corporate Communications & Marketing at Didlake, raises her paddle in support of the Hylton Center.
Gala guest Erika Spalding raises a paddle in support of the Hylton Center.

The festivities began at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 29 and included a tribute to this year’s honorees, Lovey Hammel and Denise McPhail, for their leadership and many contributions to the Hylton Center and George Mason University. The evening started in the Didlake Grand Foyer with an elegant cocktail reception featuring speciality cocktails provided by MurLarkey Distilled Spirits and a special dinner on the Merchant Hall stage, catered by Susan Gage Caterers. The evening also included a live auction featuring travel packages, as well as a “Raise Your Paddle” fundraiser in support of the Hylton Center’s Veterans and the Arts Initiative.

On Saturday, April 30, guests were treated to a Hylton Center EXTRA!  performance by Tony Award-winning star of stage and screen Leslie Odom, Jr. Holding a multifaceted career in theater, television, film, and GRAMMY Award-winning music, Odom, Jr. has earned several award nominations including an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics’ Choice Award, Golden Globe Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and more.

Leslie Odom, Jr. converses with Northern Virginia students.
Leslie Odom, Jr. converses with Northern Virginia students before Saturday evening's concert.

In addition to his performance, Odom, Jr. provided an opportunity for area students to join him in an open dialogue about his career path and what advice he has to offer about achieving goals in the performing arts. Students from Mason's School of Theater, Northern Virginia's Creative and Performing Arts Center (CAPAC), as well as Prince William County's Colgan, Forest Park, Osbourn Park, and Woodbridge High Schools participated with questions and conversation. After Odom, Jr.'s performance, an exclusive dessert reception for Gold+ level Gala Sponsors rounded out the evening.

The event raised a record-breaking amount of more than $225,000, which will support performances and programs at the Hylton Center, as well as the Education Initiative and Veterans and the Arts Initiative. Ten percent of the net proceeds will also fund the Hylton Center’s Endowment, ensuring excellence now and for years to come.

Guests enjoy cocktails during the 12th Anniversary Gala at the Hylton Center.
Guests enjoy the cocktail reception at the Hylton Center 12th Anniversary Gala.

During the event, Executive Director of the Hylton Center and Dean of Mason's College of Visual and Performing Arts Rick Davis shared, “Tonight we celebrate our unofficial motto ‘the arts create community’ and we’re here to recognize and thank those artists and community builders who deliver on that promise. The work that Lovey Hammel and her family have done has paved the way for so many artists and arts students who express their creative voice and stretch their artistic wings here at the Hylton Center.” 

He continued, “We also recognize the outstanding work of one such artist and educator – Denise McPhail, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Creative and Performing Arts Center. Through performing arts and sciences, CAPAC educates, entertains, and encourages diverse youth, teens, and adults in Northern Virginia to ignite STEAM curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills as a formula to diversify and sustain STEAM workforces for lifelong success.”

The Hylton Center’s 12th Anniversary Gala was supported by many regional businesses and individual donors, including Presenting Sponsor Compton & Duling. The Hylton Center EXTRA! performance was sponsored by Carol Merchant Kirby and Peter Kirby, NOVEC, and Buck and Julie Walters.

Event images by Melisa Pasero Photography.

Image of guests from the Hylton Center 12th Anniversary Gala
Top Left: Honoree Denise McPhail with family and friends; Top Right: Executive Director Rick Davis and George Mason University President Gregory Washington; Bottom Left: President Gregory Washington, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Mrs. Nicole Washington; Bottom Right: Honoree Lovey Hammel with father Marvin Yeates and family.