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Philanthropy

How Covid Took New York's Staid Society Circuit and Shook It Woke

The city's donor class has finally noticed it has some catching up to do, and its galas are showing the results.
At the Met Gala (from left): Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson, designer Kenneth Nicholson, race car driver Lewis Hamilton, stylist Law Roach, singer Kehlani, designer Jason Rembert, track star Sha’Carri Richardson, designer Edvin Thompson, and model Alton Mason.

At the Met Gala (from left): Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson, designer Kenneth Nicholson, race car driver Lewis Hamilton, stylist Law Roach, singer Kehlani, designer Jason Rembert, track star Sha’Carri Richardson, designer Edvin Thompson, and model Alton Mason.

Photographer: Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America

Covid-19 made the gala go away. Then it came back. But during the pause, when Black Lives Matter protests shook the U.S., and health-care inequities were thrown into the public eye, some things changed. You might say the break took the society circuit—long made up of mostly wealthy, mostly white donors—and shook it “woke.”

Take the most famous ball of all, the Met Gala, which Anna Wintour brought back in September. At the celebrity-crammed event, which supports the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress got all the attention, but others made statements. Formula 1 race car driver Lewis Hamilton used the table he was hosting as a platform to elevate Black menswear designers, including Kenneth Nicholson, Edvin Thompson, and Jason Rembert. The food, too, was a canvas for raised consciousness, featuring only plant-based dishes.