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Scene in D.C.: Etheridge, Lobbyists Rock at Women Artists’ Gala

National Museum of Women in the Arts Fall Benefit
Museum director Susan Fisher Sterling and singer Melissa Etheridge. Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

The National Museum of Women in the Arts held its 25th anniversary fall benefit last night, and the usual rules of gala attire didn’t apply.

Hap Holladay, the president of Holladay Corp., wore his Rolling Stones “Voodoo Lounge” tour shirt, which he said he dug out of “mothballs” in his closet.

Boots replaced stilettos and leather jackets prevailed over pinstripes.

The gala’s invitation called for some sartorial creativity in celebration of the museum’s current exhibition, “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power.” The 330 guests arrived for the cocktail hour by walking through halls with Aretha Franklin’s gown, Lady Gaga’s childhood piano and Madonna’s notebooks.

Susan Fisher Sterling, the museum’s director, said that this year’s gala theme could best be described as “girls just want to have fun. Think of Cyndi Lauper.”

Surveying the museum’s Great Hall, aglow with chandeliers and set for dinner, Holladay’s mother, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, the 90-year-old museum co-founder, remembered when she first discovered the building in 1985. It was a dilapidated, rat-infested space, aching for a makeover.

At the time Cole Holladay, an avid art collector and patron, was frustrated with the lack of exhibitions showcasing women artists. New York’s Metropolitan Museum hadn’t had a woman artist exhibition in 138 years, and the National Gallery of Art’s record was similarly woeful.

Celebrated Women

Today the museum celebrates women artists from all over the world, in a variety of disciplines.

Tamera Luzzatto, managing director of government relations for the Pew Charitable Trusts, and her husband, David Leiter, president of ML Strategies LLC, posed for a picture in front of one of Cher’s stage ensembles designed by Bob Mackie. They both played it safe in suits.

In Johnny Cash black with fringes stretching down her sleeve, lobbyist Heather Podesta said, “I’m channeling me.” She added that her outfit was designed by Moschino.

Singer Melissa Etheridge received the museum’s award for excellence in the performing arts.

She pointed out her favorite piece in the upstairs gallery. “ To Kiss the Spirits: Now, This Is What It Is Really Like” is a 1993 painting by Hollis Sigler that expresses the artist’s fight with breast cancer, a disease that Etheridge also battled.

The jacket Etheridge wore to the 2005 Grammys where she performed with a bald head after undergoing chemotherapy hangs in the exhibition.

After a dinner of roast chicken followed by pumpkin ice-cream sundaes, Etheridge performed an acoustic set for the guests including Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”

She resisted political prognosticating before tomorrow’s election, simply saying that “the American people will get exactly what they vote for.”

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include Robert Heller on music and Elin McCoy on wine.

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