Our View: If the ‘affaire’ is to return, invite everyone at the start

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The Black and White Affaire, formerly Black and White Ball, came and went with much less of a bang than in year’s past. At its height, the once annual Downtown Auburn event drew upward of 5,000 people to the party that featured multiple live bands, lots of food and alcohol. But as the years continued, concerns over the number of driving-under-the-influence arrests that followed, litter and damage to streets and businesses, the cut to local businesses income because they had to close early for event preparation, and more led to the cancellation of the event altogether. This year the Auburn Chamber of Commerce decided to revive the event just in a different form. The chamber’s revival and revision worked in some ways but not others. If the event is to continue in the future, and there are indications that it will, there needs to be a focus on making it a true community event that incorporates all community members and the business community. This year the chamber billed the Black and White Affaire as a community event. However, it was initially advertised as invitation-only, male attendees had to wear a collared shirt and tie and attendance was capped at 2,000. The chamber handed out vouchers to event sponsors only. Sponsors could then hand out the vouchers to whomever they wanted to invite to the affaire. Sponsors could’ve paid the $55 cost of each voucher or the invitee may have had to go redeem the voucher and pay the $55 per person for the ticket themselves. Whatever was left over would be available to the public. It was that initial ticket selling method that was in many ways a turn-off to the event and did not embody an overall community spirit. It instead bred feelings of exclusivity. In the end, about two weeks before the event, vouchers that were not redeemed were made available to the general public. The chamber had about 1,000 tickets left come show time and told the Journal the day of the event that they were keeping their office open until 9 p.m. to sell tickets to an affaire that started at 8:30 p.m. Attendance was light throughout the evening, especially in comparison to year’s past, with a generous estimation that 900 to 1,000 were present. There were some good points of the evening. The smaller scale of the event and centralizing it in Central Square was a nice move and gave a more intimate feel. Less people meant the food lasted longer and by limiting alcohol to beer, wine and a specialty signature drink (which turned out to be vodka mixed with cranberry juice) and less people, the incidents of damage and unruly behavior were severely curbed. In that respect, the event organizers succeeded. Auburn Police reported they had no incidents as a result of the event, save for one medical call for a woman who drank too much, according to Police Chief John Ruffcorn. The chamber also footed the bill for police officers on duty that night. If the chamber is to bring back the Black and White Affaire/Ball, then it should pick what its main focus is. If it’s to create an evening that appeals to its members and sponsors, then it’s time to move the event to a private location where they can invite who they want. If it’s truly to be a community event, then ticket sales need to be open to the public from the outset and it should be marketed as so from the beginning. Let the mix of casual, formal and costume nature of Black and White Ball’s past continue and don’t try to instill a formal dress code. And if there is a specialty signature drink, what about a more community based one such as a mandarin vodka concoction? Also, is there a way to work with the businesses that are within the central square perimeter of the event? The chamber and those businesses should work closely throughout the year to find a compromise and a way for those businesses to stay open throughout the event. Most attendees might want to pursue the goods, food and wares at those businesses packed in that area. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce does put on great community events with its funds and those events include the annual Festival of Lights parade in December and the Fourth of July parade. Those events invite and embrace all and so should all of the chamber’s events that use public streets and facilities, like the Black and White Affaire. The affaire can be one to remember as long as it truly embodies the message of including everyone.