Despite Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s 2020 Gala: La Dolce Vita having to be re-scheduled due to COVID-19, the spirit of the Foundation’s excellence in events lives on! On Friday, June 12, 2020, Peace Arch Hospital Foundation was honoured to receive an ILEA Award for Best Fundraising Event based on its 2019 Gala: A Space Odyssey. Established in 1995, the ILEA awards were created to be a symbol of event industry excellence and have since evolved into one of the most respected awards competitions in the industry.  

Through 2019: A Space Odyssey, the team at Peace Arch Hospital Foundation brought their galactic vision of engaging entertainment, unique activations, and the beauty of non-conventional décor pieces to life, while harnessing the power of philanthropy to support the critically-needed expansion of Peace Arch Hospital’s OR. 

Continue reading below for a behind-the-scenes look at Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s event-planning process. It’s truly out of this world!  

It all Starts with a Vision 

The process of planning an award-winning gala begins over a year before the actual event takes place. Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s Events team brainstorms potential themes, which are then approved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors.  

“Planning the perfect gala always starts with a vision board,” says Ashleigh Morriss, Special Events Officer at the Foundation. “Approximately one year before we host a gala, we cobble together photos, images, décor samples, and other elements of a particular thematic idea. This vision board serves as the creative direction for the entire event planning process.”  

“We always have at least 2-3 thematic ideas in the pipeline for future galas,” adds Morriss. Past event themes have included Vintage Vegas, Le Cirque du Soirée, A Hard Day’s Night, and others. “Once a theme is approved by the Board, we work tirelessly to develop it out into a full-scale event plan. Every element is carefully curated by our in-house events teams.” 

“Planning the perfect gala starts with a vision board,” says Ashleigh Morriss.

The Call for the Committee 

To support the event-planning process, Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s events team initiates a 20-person volunteer gala steering committee. The gala steering committee — led by co-chairs Joelle Paleologou and Siobhan Philips in 2019 — meets for about a year throughout the event planning process, anchored by monthly meetings which establish priorities in all areas from sponsorship and acquisitions, to décor and marketing communications. The committee also supports the Foundation in recruiting nearly 100+ volunteers for event night.   

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do best without the support of our amazing gala steering committee members and volunteers,” says Ashleigh Morriss. “Watching members come together to support the gala planning process is truly inspirational.”  

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation staff pose for a photo on event night

Dreaming up Décor and other Fine Details  

Transforming a dated city arena into an out-of-this-world, galactic experience is no small feat, but with the help of local vendors, 2019’s Space Odyssey was able to boldly go where no gala has gone before. “The guest experience was mesmerizing, intoxicating, and truly out of this world,” said Vicki Brydon, Director of Public Relations and Events at the Foundation.  

Months before the event, Ashleigh Morriss and her team work tirelessly to source the best décor items they can get their hands on. Some are rented, some are purchased second-hand, and some are created in true DIY-fashion with the help of creative gala committee members. 

In 2019, vendors included but weren’t limited to Loungeworks, Kettner Creative, Pedersen’s Event Rentals, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, TEN BC and Paintertainment. Lighting, staging, and media production were supplied by FMAV. 

Selecting a Menu  

When it comes to guests’ enjoyment of gala, the Foundation knows that food and beverage are nearly as important to the event as the purpose of the event itself. As the lead event planner, Ashleigh Morriss is responsible for working with the venue, catering professionals and service teams to plan all consumables, right down to each individual ingredient for the evening’s elaborate menu.  

“We source, test and taste each item,” says Morriss. “Every item selected represents the theme, which adds to the magic of the evening. Of course, we always consult new and emerging trends from the food and beverage industry to ensure we are always delivering the most unique, state-of-the-art menu to our guests.”  

Highlights of A Space Odyssey include space-themed cocktails in Spock’s ‘Martian-tini’ Lounge and bevvies made with pure H20 at ‘Captain Kirk’s Oxygen Bar’.  

The Spirit of Giving  

At its core, the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Gala is a fundraiser. Held at Centennial Arena, 2019’s A Space Odyssey served as a fundraiser for the Foundation to build five new state-of-the-art surgical suites for the hospital’s OR. Fundraising activities included a digital silent auction, live auction with Fund A Need and the Libation Motherboard Wall of Wine raffle 

“A Space Odyssey was a fantastic night for philanthropy,” Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Beck said in a news release. With 2019’s proceeds, the Foundation was able to reach nearly $8 million of our $12 million fundraising commitment towards the OR. “The gala was truly out of this world!” says Beck.  

A Space Odyssey inspired many guests to contribute to the cause. Fundraising was kicked off with the announcement of a $100,000 gift from local philanthropists Vern and Helga Höing. Also announced was a $1.5 million pledge towards the new operating suites recently made by the Peace Arch Hospital Auxiliary Society. 

The evening was presented by Neil & Lisa Yarmoshuk, with support provided by Auction Sponsor – Leith Wheeler, Diamond Sponsors – Isle of Mann, Lark Group, Creative Kids Learning Centers and Westland Insurance, Platinum Sponsors – Lindsay Kenney LLPDMCL and OpenRoad Auto Group, long-standing media sponsor – Peace Arch News, Venue Sponsor – The City of White Rock, along with many other generous local businesses. 

Event Day  

“Approximately twenty-four hours before gala, our team takes possession of the venue,” says Morriss. “From there, we work round-the-clock to completely transform the space.”  With a mix of Foundation staff, vendors and volunteers at her side, Morriss acts as a kind of conductor for the entire production. “It’s important to make sure that all A/V, décor, structures and activations are ready to go for event-day,” says Morriss. “Creating a memorable gala experience requires attention to even the smallest of details.”   

Back in 2019, no detail was spared. From the first step through a space shuttle’s sliding doors into a pure white lobby that featured a futuristic operating room and a multi-lit pulsing walkway, guests were immersed in an outer-worldly experience like no other. Spock’s Martian-tini lounge offered cosmic cocktails with billowing dry ice and E.T.’s Extra Terrestrial Tattoo Station branded guests with temporary tattoos. Two space alien girls welcomed the guests with the signature drink served in a test tube.  

Two magnificent 24’ white bars flanked the room with shimmering crystals and glass while Captain Kirk’s Oxygen Bar delivered H2O on tap. A giant lit moon, sun, and earth balloons hung from the ceiling, their glow bouncing off the inky black drape that encapsulated the room and stood in for the galaxy. The Mission Control VIP section featured glowing oval lighted tables and clear ghost chairs and the rest of the seating was white round tables.  

Entertainment started with Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper kicking off the festivities and included vignettes throughout the evening of LED light show acrobatic and musical performances before a grand finale of a space opera Diva performing Evgenia Laguna from The Fifth Element.  There was a slow-motion video booth where guests used props to create one-of-a-kind videos that were emailed to them on the spot. A DJ closed out the night spinning tunes to a packed dance floor. 

What’s Next for Peace Arch Hospital Foundation’s Gala

In accordance with the BC Centre for Disease Control’s mandate regarding events with more than 50 attendees, the Peace Arch Hospital Gala has been postponed. 

On May 1, 2021, guests will have the opportunity to celebrate the lush beauty, tantalizing food, and succulent wine that go hand-in-hand with The Sweet Life, Italian-style. La Dolce Vita will enchant their senses, ignite their passion for gorgeous food and vino, and them feel like family. Now, that’s amore!