Jazz singer Marlowe Sheppard performs at Night of Jazz in 2020.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
A beloved and highly-anticipated community event resurges in a matter of days. On Friday, April 23 at 6:00 p.m., the Gadsden Museum of Art welcomes the public to its delightful annual fundraiser Night of Jazz, with proceeds dedicated to the establishment that invests diligently into its local arts community.
Night of Jazz originated in 2014, with the museum’s previous curator coordinating the fundraiser’s theme with a corresponding exhibit highlighting the art of jazz music. Designed to offer an entertaining, relaxed evening for guests to socialize and explore all the GMA provides, Night of Jazz generates an impressive turnout each year as droves pour into 515 Broad Street to discover what the night entails.
This year’s BYOB event features jazz singer Marlowe Sheppard and his Quintet, organized via local musician and business owner Arnold Montgomery, who incorporates performers from throughout Alabama and neighboring states. While tapping their feet to the music, guests will enjoy an appetizing dinner from Tre Regazzi’s Italian Café, with gluten-free options available. Visitors can participate in both a silent auction for donated artwork and a scavenger hunt leading groups throughout the galleries, viewing the unique artwork on display and earning the chance to win gift cards in the process.
“It’s good music, but it’s lowkey enough for you to talk and socialize,” said GMA Curator Ray Wetzel. “It’s not overpowering. Night of Jazz is great – it showcases a variety of different aspects and points-of-view in art, and it’s validation for all the hard work we do. To see how many people usually come and have fun is rewarding.”
GMA Education and Outreach Coordinator Jill Edwards shared that artwork created by local students accompanies the other exhibits featured during Night of Jazz. She shared that this design proved intentional, with the museum electing to host children’s artwork as a way to demonstrate to the community its support of the arts in school systems as a valid and essential element of education.
“By hosting our children’s art show, we all participants to see how important art is in the schools,” said Edwards. “Teaching curriculums now encourage students to be creative and to think outside-the-box – to think and use their creative minds. You see that in how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) changed to STEAM [to incorporate the arts]. Even if you’re a math major, you can benefit from having a strong foundation in art, because it teaches you to think creatively and use your mind in innovative ways.”
Wetzel reflected on perhaps his most memorable Night of Jazz, which arrived a mere week after he was hired as director. While Wetzel worked diligently around-the-clock to secure a band, catering and organize the massive event, he recognized the night as a milestone in his career – a first little triumph and a collaborative success.
Wetzel and Edwards encouraged the community to experience Night of Jazz for themselves, which they illustrated as an evening everyone can enjoy, not just a niche crowd. The coworking pair signified how Night of Jazz encapsulates the museum’s mission and reiterates the rare treasure Gadsden holds in its cultural and artistic communities – and how those communities influence and affect the quality of life in Etowah County.
“For a city Gadsden’s size, we’re incredibly fortunate to have what we have,” said Wetzel. “We were one of the first city departments to open up (after the pandemic closures) that is non-essential, because people wanted to get out of their homes and have experiences safely. Museums nurture greater quality of life, giving people the chance to see something they don’t see every day. At the GMA, we balance our schedule with both contemporary and traditional exhibits – if you come in and don’t like the show, come back in six weeks and we’ll have something different. Night of Jazz is another experience we offer…it’s for everybody.”