ASA: Armenian Students' Association

ASA Branches

Artists' Ball History ... An Armenian Tradition in New York City

The New York Armenian Students' Association Artists' Ball has consistently been the blockbuster event of season for New York's tri-state area Armenian community for over 60 years. The first ball took place on May 22, 1948 at the Roosevelt Hotel's Grand Ballroom. With only one exception, the Artists' Ball has been the annual affair where Armenian art commingling with a dazzling social occasion is the area's most anticipated and most memorable event year after year.

Where did it all begin? In the 1940s the New York branch of the Armenian Students' Association formed a committee to promote Armenian artists and provide them an opportunity to showcase their works. The committee's founders included such noteworthy figures from literature, music and visual arts as New York Times Book Review critic Nona Balakian, pianist Maro Ajemian, Dikran Dingilian, painter and Cooper Union art instructor, John Desteian, Nectar Kazazian and others. Out of their early discussions grew the Artists' Ball.

Held at the Roosevelt Hotel, the early Balls encompassed many areas of expression-- visual art as well as theatrical and musical performances-all enjoyed by guests many of whom arrived bedecked in costume.

The Artists' Ball was originally a masked affair. Along with the artists' creativity, the guests had the opportunity to express themselves as many wore costumes of their own creation. At that time, the Roosevelt Hotel provided gratis meeting rooms where early Ball goers attended costume design workshops held by the ASA. Awards were given for both the artwork and best costumes.

In the 1960s, costumes fell out of fashion and the emphasis therefore, shifted entirely to the artworks themselves. Juried by Armenian professionals in the field, the ASA awarded prizes for the most innovative and well executed works.

Other sites of the Ball also included the Savoy Hotel, Essex House, the Vanderbilt, St. Mortiz and Hilton Hotels, Helmsley Plaza, 6 Bond Street, the historic Puck Building and (from 2007 to 2010) Gallerie Icosahedron.

Throughout the years, the ASA Artists's Ball has always been volunteer-driven with preparations beginning as early as one year in advance. The artworks are handled with special care by dedicated volunteers who display them on the day of the event and then devote their time until the wee hours of the night when all must be dismantled at the close of the Ball.

The scope of artist participation has also broadened as the exhibit of late has drawn Armenians from France, Canada and across the U.S. to send works for inclusion in the exhibit. With the influx of Armenian immigrants to America, many newcomers included artists from Armenia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Artists of varied backgrounds exhibit works in painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and mixed media at the Artists' Ball.

Over the years, musical performances are key to the event as well. Typically, jazz and classical music can be heard in the gallery while Armenian and American music inspire dancing in the Ballroom.

Aside from being the area's quintessential event, the New York ASA Artists' Ball serves to raise funds for the branch's annual budget of providing interesting lectures as well as cultural and social gatherings. It also enables the branch to make its yearly contribution to the ASA national scholarship fund.


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