Wednesday, February 28, 2007

DIFFA and David Shepard

Guests at Duralee table for the 10th annual DINING BY DESIGN tour
by Valerie Gladstone

David Shepard, Executive Director of DIFFA


3/1/07 - When DIFFA’S executive director David Shepard began doing volunteer work for AIDS in 1984 in his native Atlanta, he had no idea that he would eventually spend his life devoted to the cause. “We literally passed the hat,” he says of those early days, “doing things like helping people who were sick pay for meals and cab fare. We thought the problem would be all over in six months. Instead the need escalated horribly fast.”

Mariska Hargitay, David Sheppard, and Jane Seymour
Shaken by his cousin Blake’s death of AIDS, Shepard involvement only intensified. “I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to be a buddy and care for those who were sick,” he says, “but I did know how to raise money.” Indeed. In 1987, he arranged a musical fundraising event with the local Atlanta production Heart Strings that brought in $100,000. Impressed by his keen business sense, DIFFA’s Board of Trustees in New York asked Shepard to join the board. In 1995, it made him Executive Director.

Over the years, Shepard has continually proved his genius at finding original ways to attract donors to DIFFA, none more glamorous than the Dining by Design tour, which opened on Feb 24-26 at the Waterfront, and then travels to seven cities. “We’re aiming to bring in $800,00 in New York this year,” he says.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year’s Dining By Design tour, presented by Elle décor and GE Monogram, included a series of sparkling parties, bringing together some of the most talented and distinguished individuals in fashion, interior design, art and architecture to create spectacular, over-the-top dining environments. In the past, the tour raised as much as $12 million.
Viking Range Corporation by Ted Allen and Barry Rice
The New York event featured 60 dining installations by luminaries like David Rockwell/Rockwell Group for GE Monogram, Margaret Russell for Elle Decor, Marc Blackwell for Rosemont Estate and Elexion by Arne Quinze for Lexus, as well as corporate giants such as Calvin Klein Home, Ralph Lauren Home, Walt Disney Signature, Benjamin Moore and Crate & Barrel.

Notable guests included Margaret Russell, David Rockwell, Jane Seymour, Mariska Hargitay, Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera, Fern Mallis, Jonathan Adler, Leven Rambin, Robert Verdi, B. Smith, Ted Allen, Beverly Feldman, Tracy Stern, Vincente Wolf, Marc Ecko, NY1’s Poppy Harlow, Lady Bunny, Serena Bass, and Simon Doonan.

David Rockwell, Margaret Russell, and Dan Ragone
The Dining by Design Tour started by chance after a fundraising event for Heart Strings in Kansas City. “Someone said `let’s give artists and designers blank tables and chairs and let them do anything they want,’ Shepard says. “Totally brilliant. It was like a dream come true for those who participated and an immediate success. I saw its potential as a national event. And here we are today. At the beginning we would sell the designed tables to guests. Now the designers like them so much that they buy most of them before the event.”

Shepard sounds like a kid when he talks about the events. “Every year, they amaze me. I’ve already looked at some renderings,” he said. “Garrett Incorporated is going to have a transparent screen made of 40,000 paper clips. Nautica is setting up its table to be like the deck of a ship, Roche-Bobois is going to be completely Marie Antoinette, and David Rockwell GE Kitchen Theater will have everyone eating on GE cook tops with place settings on burners. One year there was a table designed by a craft artist with a volcano that erupted every 20 minutes. It was surrounded by dolls, and every time it went up, they would shake. Pretty silly. All I can say is that everyone has an awful lot of fun.”
B. Smith
Jamie Drake
Poppy Harlow and Kristian Laliberte
Jane Seymour
Melissa Barnett Rhodes
Debroah Buck, Alex Papachristidis, Jill Diense, and Scott Nelson
Simon Doonan, Margaret Russell, and Jonathan Adler
Jack Kilger and Margaret Russell
Lady Bunny
Mariska Hargitay
Serena Bass
Scott Nelson and Alison Mazzola
Tracy Stern and Leven Rambin
Benjamin Moore table
David Rockwell, Jane Seymour, and Marc Blackwell
L. to r.: Elisabeth and Tim Hasselbeck at Disney table; Candy Productions table.
L. to r.: Guests at ELLE DECOR table; Ted Allen and Barry Rice.
Susan Blond
Silk Trading Co table
Shane Cisneros and Leven Rambin at Michael Tavano table
Robert Verdi, Margaret Russell, and Jonathan Adler
Nautica table
Zuleyka Rivera and Matthew Rich

Photographs by ©Patrick McMullan