By Kristine Cannon

Oscar De Las Salas and Scottsdale Arts are hoping to “bring pizazz to downtown” with its Starry Night Gala on Saturday, December 7, at the Scottsdale Arts Campus in Old Town Scottsdale. 

“We wanted to do something totally glamorous,” he says. “We’ll make it like you are at a major awards show.”

When guests step out of their vehicles, cameras will flash, and they will make their way down a 300-foot red carpet. Emmy Award-winning journalist Carey Peña will be waiting on the other end, microphone in hand.

“It will be a one-of-a-kind event to celebrate a one-of-a-kind museum,” De las Salas adds.

This year’s gala will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) and recognize those who were instrumental in the creation of SMoCA.

“It will be interspersed with recognizing these extraordinary people and their great achievement and fabulous performers, but without a break in the party atmosphere,” says Dr. Gerd Wuestemann, president and CEO of Scottsdale Arts.

At the gala, Scottsdale Arts will also debut the Herberger Award for the Arts, which will be given to Dr. Robert Knight, SMoCA’s founding director.

De las Salas says the award was named after Billie Jo and Judd Herberger due to their “financial and emotional support” to the organization.

“It is so important that that award have their name,” De las Salas says. “The Herbergers, today, are like my parents. (They) have opened their arms to me because they’ve seen my passion through the world of arts. I feel like their son.”

The gala will also honor architect Will Bruder; former Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana; Kathy Hotchner, former director of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts; Frank Jacobson, former CEO of Scottsdale Arts; Carolyn Robbins, former curator of education for Scottsdale Arts; Randy Schilling, former director of development for Scottsdale Arts; Valeria Vadala-Homer, former director of Scottsdale Public Art; and Ellie Ziegler, philanthropist and former Scottsdale Arts board chairwoman.

Starry Night Gala is broken into three experiences, held across the entire Scottsdale Arts Campus.

“That’s the reason why we invited three different personalities, TV and media, from town to help us host it,” De las Salas says.

Hosts include the aforementioned Peña of Inspired Media 360, Vanessa Ruiz of Cronkite News Borderlands, and Javier Soto of “Good Morning Arizona.”

Guests will enter through “Knight Rise,” the James Turrell skyspace commissioned by Scottsdale Public Art for the SMoCA courtyard.

Champagne in hand, guests will then make their way down the red carpet, under the lights of “Murmuration,” a dazzling installation by UK-based artist studio Squidsoup, as “American Idol” star Von Smith plays the piano.

“For the first (experience), Carey Peña is going to host the red carpet. You’re going to walk under the Squidsoup installation ‘Murmuration,’ and then you’re going to get interviewed by Carey,” De las Salas explains. “It’s all that very E! Entertainment-like.”

Next, guests are whisked past local performers and dancers and seated for dinner “under the stars” inside the center’s atrium.

“Vanessa Ruiz is going to be the host for that portion,” De las Salas says.

The awards presentation and a live auction hosted by Letitia Frye will also take place in the atrium.

“That’s called ‘dinner under the stars’ because the interior is going to be modeled like you are under the stars bringing the outdoors in, since we can’t go outside,” adds Lauren Zapien, Scottsdale Arts membership and events manager.

“The atrium will be truly transformed where you won’t recognize the space,” Wuestemann says.

The performances also include collaborations with local musicians Geibral Elisha Movement and AJ Odneal, who have appeared at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and students who have participated in programs facilitated by Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation, formerly Scottsdale Arts Education & Outreach).

“The focus of this is really bringing our mission to the forefront versus bringing prominent artists. We’re working with our local talents and our students,” Zapien says.

As for the auction items, they are just as extravagant as the gala.

In addition to a luxury room makeover package valued at more than $60,000 by IMI Design Studios, three travel packages will be up for bid.

To start, the Scottsdale Arts Santa Fe Package features exclusive art experiences with artist Betsy Ehrenberg, a tour and reception at Patina Gallery, a visit to Meow Wolf, and meals at local culinary destination.

The Jazz Cruise package takes the highest bidder to Miami, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Key West, and includes over 200 hours of live musical performances by 100 jazz musicians.

And, finally, the Art Getaway to Pebble Beach includes travel and a two-night stay for four at La Playa Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where guests will take part in private art studio experiences with local artists Elizabeth Barlow and David Ligare, among other experiences.

The goal of the gala is two-fold: raise money for Scottsdale Arts and its events and programs, and showcase the Scottsdale Arts umbrella, which includes Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, SMoCA, Scottsdale Public Art and Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation.

Last year’s gala grossed $260,000.

“The gala as our annual showcase is not just about raising money, (but) it’s also about showing people who we are and what we do,” Wuestemann says. “It’s about really taking a moment with our friends and supporters to say ‘thank you’ to them, recognize those who helped us get here, and really saying to people, ‘You may not know how much we work in this area and in this arena, so let us show you a little bit.’”

While the gala will recognize and celebrate its past, the organization also has its sights set on the future.

“It’s also about what the next 20 years hold,” Wuestemann says. “This gala is also a starting point for us to layout this vision of what the next 10 or 20 years will hold in terms of our future growth and to lay out a vision of what we will start working on immediately starting next year after the bond passes and opportunities for the future of SMoCA.”

Wuestemann refers to possible upgrades to the SMoCA facility and a possible rebuild of the Civic Center.

Dress code for the gala is black tie with the suggested colors of navy, gold and/or black.

Starry Night: An ARTrageous Gala, Scottsdale Arts Campus, 7380 E. Second Street, Scottsdale, 480.874.4662,, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, December 7, $500-$5,000.