What to Know Before You Go

Preparing for the 2018 Speed Ball

Story by Graham Pilotte

Photos by Bill Wine

As winter begins to fade, let the blooming colors of spring bring art to mind. This year, the Speed Art Museum is welcoming the new season with the annual Speed Ball. With vibrant color, decadent food and tantalizing music, the Speed Ball is the perfect way for both new and old friends of the museum to celebrate springtime.

“In my eyes, the Speed Ball is a huge thank-you to the community in Louisville and the surrounding areas,” explains Woo Speed McNaughton, who is co-chairing this year’s event along with Laura Benson Jones. “They’ve been with us for so many years and keep coming back and keep supporting. So with the Speed Ball, we’re saying ‘thank you’ to our partners, our staff and our community.”

From an early age, McNaughton was passionate about getting involved at the Speed. “We used to have a table called ‘First Impressions,’” McNaughton recalls. “I sat there and welcomed people, and answered any questions about what was going on that day and where things were in the museum.” Years have passed, but that spirit of welcoming has stayed the same. “Now, if I see someone come through the door and look a little mystified, I want to introduce myself,” McNaughton says.

A wide range of people walk through the Speed’s doors throughout the year. “There are a huge amount of people who volunteer, work as staff, come visit or support through business or financial means,” McNaughton explains. “We want to thank them right back.” To do that, the Speed is constantly reaching out to new faces, and the annual ball is one excellent way to do so. “We’re really going out to the people who want to be involved in their museum, in their city, in their state,” McNaughton explains. “Raising money is important, but we’re raising money every day. You can’t entertain like this every day.”

She’s right. Making up the first part of the night, there’s one exciting feature that’s newly returned for 2018: dinner in the 1927 galleries of the museum. “It’s really unusual to have supper in an art museum,” McNaughton confides. She’s excited to bring back the crowd-pleaser: “It’s difficult because you have to sit so many feet away from the art, but it’s a very special event simply because of that,” she says. “We haven’t had dinner at the Speed Museum for years; we’ve had a party that’s more like a gala, but people really enjoyed going back and sitting down.”

Although the dinner for 550 is sold out, curious partygoers and old friends still have a chance to get involved through the second part of the evening until 1 a.m. “We still have tickets left for the dessert and dancing,” McNaughton says with a smile. “It’s called ‘Late Night at the Speed.’ It’s great fun – we welcome everyone in at 9 p.m., and another whole party ensues with dessert and dancing and drinks.” Of course, there will also be art. “People can roam the galleries in the North Building,” McNaughton explains. “There’s the new show (Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism) – there’s lots of art to see and lots to do.”

Even beyond the art on the walls, there’s art in the form of fashion on every attendee. “I was always raised knowing that it’s the spring ball of Louisville,” McNaughton says. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but we’re doing some extraordinarily beautiful flowers this year; some pinks and beautiful spring colors. Color abounds, and it’s the first Saturday in March. It’s an opportunity for people to feel quite grand.”

The grandeur will extend to the delicious desserts as well. “Susan Hershberg of Wiltshire Pantry runs the cafe in the museum, and she is doing a range of desserts,” McNaughton explains. “There might be a crepe station and a gelato station – you never know,” she teases, “and, of course, pick-up sweets for someone who might just want a bite of chocolate.”

Live performers will round out the evening. “The Dirty Dozen Brass Band from New Orleans is coming out,” McNaughton reveals. “Everybody loves to dance here; it’s quite a dancing party and has been known as that for many years.” The ensemble plays jazz in the style of a New Orleans street parade. “They engage with their audience and really stay with you,” McNaughton says. “The music is tantalizing; even if you don’t want to dance, it’s great to listen. The young people will love them, and the established crowd will, too.”

Of all the exciting developments to the 2018 Speed Ball, McNaughton might be proudest of bringing the Speed full circle. “I think the return to dinner is what everybody is excited about; to have a lovely dinner party and to celebrate being closed for three years and yet reestablishing a huge, new, more national museum,” she says.

“To me, it’s history,” McNaughton says. “We want Louisville to be very mindful of what our history is – we don’t want to change history, but we want to know it. A museum of any nature is the more viable way to educate our young people in the history of our community. That means the world to me. I think the Speed is important to our region, to our state, and to our country as well. It’s all about collaboration; that’s what the world is and we want to make it available to everyone.”

When searching for the spring event of 2018, look no further than the Speed Museum – a local gem that’s open to old friends and new faces alike. With live music, glorious spring colors and a return to the unique dinner amidst beautiful art, this event will both be the talk of the city and an evening full of memories. “All museums hold our history,” McNaughton says. “That’s what we do day-to-day by welcoming people into a place that’s full of history, and giving them the facts, and the truth – that’s what the Speed is to me.” VT


The Ultimate Photo Op

Creating memories at the Speed Ball is even greater when you have a photograph to exquisitely capture the moment. For this year’s guests, photographer Clay Cook will be there to make them into art. “Clay Cook is setting up a portrait studio, as he did last year,” explains The Voice-Tribune Publisher Laura Snyder. “He’ll set up a backdrop, but one where you can still tell that you’re in the museum.”

The photos will be of an even higher quality than normal Voice event photos: “It’s more than a quick, grip-and-grin type photo,” Snyder explains. “He’s bringing a few assistants who can help to pose people. Everyone who has their photo taken at the Speed Ball can go see the photos online – it’s private, but there will be multiple shots, and you can choose your favorite.”

Attendees can purchase a digital download or order prints of the photos. “It’s a really nice option when everyone is dressed up and looking their best,” Snyder explains, “to have someone of Clay Cook’s caliber there to take a photo.” While making memories at the 2018 Speed Ball, be sure not to miss a chance at a beautiful picture to remind you of the evening’s festivities.

A Personal Connection

Woo Speed McNaughton and her family have a long history of being involved with the museum. “I’m a relative of James Breckinridge Speed by his first marriage, and his second wife is the one who founded the museum,” McNaughton explains. “My parents, John and Stewie Speed, were very involved – art, and the Speed Museum, were very important to them.”

She inherited their love of art. “It fell into my lap,” she says with a laugh. “My mother would do a lot of volunteer work and she would take me with her.” McNaughton now sits on the Board of Trustees, and she’s tremendously thankful for current volunteers. “The community in Louisville and in surrounding areas has supported us and been with us for many years along the way,” she says. “They keep coming back, and keep supporting. It means a great deal to me.”