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Long Center ups its gala game with Front & Center

Michael Barnes

Not every gala is a gala, mind you, yet the Long Center for the Performing Arts’ dressy annual benefit, now dubbed “Front & Center,” is a true gala once again.

For some time, the Long Center, once known for over-the-top parties, has treated itself to much smaller revels. Nothing wrong with that. Yet Austin has come to expect a bigger charitable megaphone for its larger nonprofits and their vital missions.

Front & Center reverses that trend.

Certainly not excessive, the new format that premiered Friday places the main action on the Meredith Family Stage — graced by the presence of the namesake family this year — in the manner of the successful Authentic Mexico benefits staged each fall for the Hispanic Alliance.

And no guest should be surprised by this arrangement, since Monica Peraza, founder of the Hispanic Alliance, is now the Long Center board chairwoman.

The second news out of the Front & Center fandango was the overdue recognition for past board chairs who received the new Long Center Icon Award. In this group, of course, was Joe R. Long, the center’s co-namesake alongside his wife, Teresa Lozano Long.

Also handed honors were civic leaders Ben Bentzin, Rusty Tally, Carolyn Lewis, Cliff Ernst, Craig Hester, Patsy Woods Martin and Tom Sellers. One last award went to the center’s current board leader, Peraza.

Aside for some tough beef, the nicely plated dinner pleased our tablemates, which included hosts Eva and Marvin Womack, with whom I had my first extended conversation after all these years and all these events together.

As for the opening number from the Long Center Select Ensemble, this was the third time in three days that I heard Allen Robertson’s catchy new tune, “Color and Light,” and I dutifully sang it for the entire mile-long walk home.

One last piece of news that I have permission to share: Joe and Teresa Long are selling their grand Old Enfield home and will move into a retirement community not far away. What of their museum-quality collection of art, including some top-shelf Impressionist paintings? A good number of them go on auction in New York later this spring.

We’ll keep you posted.