Under glowing lights strung between cedars, patrons meandered toward the scents of wine and the sounds of steel drums, stopping to talk with friends old and new every few paces. The fifth annual Harvest Supper brought visitors and residents to Rowan Oak on Thursday night to support the University Museum.
Friends of the Museum organizes the event, which includes dinner, drinks and an auction of local art, to raise money for the museum each year. The group has raised $100,000 annually for the museum since the Harvest Supper began in 2014.
“The money the Friends bring in is really import to maintain the collection, to expand the collection and to have events to bring people in the museum,” said Kate Wallace, the membership, events and communications coordinator at the University Museum. “It means a lot. We work on a pretty small budget. We’re a state institution and there’s not a lot of extra money going around.”
The event was planned for 550 attendees, and tickets were sold for $150 each. Individuals and businesses also sponsor the event; some donated over $10,000. Wallace said there are not any other fundraisers like this for the museum, and the Friends of the Museum that put it on is a special group of supporters.
“They show up regularly for events,” she said. “They are big champions for us in the community.”
Gail Henry, a Friend of the Museum and greeter at the event, explained that the organization used to supplement the museum’s budget in small ways, but has grown to support new exhibits entirely, as well as, maintain the collection.
“It’s important because we need to support the museum and Rowan Oak,” Henry said. “It’s all just so lovely.”
The event sold out for the first time this year, with people from across the Southeast attending.
“Art is such a big part of Mississippi culture, and it’s a true essence of Mississippi characters you meet at an event like this,” biology and history major Callie Jane Simmons said.
For the first time, the art auction was conducted online rather than on the grounds, and featured 18 pieces from local artists chosen by a museum committee.
“Oxford really prides itself on being an arts town – there’s a lot of art going on. The University Museum, to me, anyway, is kind of the center of that,” Wallace said. “We try to support local artists, especially with the festival. We try to give them a platform.”
More than just the art, Rowan Oak was key to the event and the mission of the University Museum. Ed Croom, whose photo of Rowan Oak was featured in the auction, said it is a special place to residents and visitors alike.
“It’s a jewel in the town,” Croom said.
Rowan Oak has become the biggest attraction for the town of Oxford, according to Kinney Ferris, who works for the Oxford Tourism Council and attended the Harvest Supper.
“It’s magical,” she said, describing the night. “It’s like a fairytale.”