By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
*** Note: The art show has NOT been cancelled. Only the Patron’s Ball. See below. ***
The Patron’s Ball is a long-standing tradition at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. For 40 years, the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale and the Patron’s Ball – which is the major fundraiser for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West – have brought famous artists, politicians and just local folks together for a week of western art and fashion.
Regular attendees to the Ball include Dick Cheney, Prince Albert II of Monaco, current and former Governors for the state, retired Senator Al Simpson and other high profile dignitaries from around the state.
But this year, the Patron’s Ball has been cancelled due to the recent spike in COVID cases, which have caused local health care facilities to go into crisis mode.
“With the patron’s ball, it’s an indoor event,” said Tina Hoebelheinrich, the Executive Director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. “There’s dancing, there’s a shared meal. And so when you’re trying to mitigate for those COVID risks, an indoor event like that is pretty challenging.”
The Patron’s Ball is the endcap to the annual week-long celebration of arts and western culture in Cody called “Rendezvous Royale,” which takes place the third week of September every year. The event has been held annually for over forty years, and is the primary fundraiser for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. At $350 per ticket, it draws the rich – and modestly wealthy – to what is affectionately known to some as the “Cody Prom”.
Rebecca West, the Executive Director for the Center of the West, thanked the community members and patrons for their understanding.
“We are humbled by the kindness, and the understanding from community members and businesses, patrons, and visitors – especially this week – but really throughout the year,” she said. “Cody is a town known for its character and ability to get through tough times, and we are proud of everyone’s efforts to keep going and look ahead to a better future.”
But West also pointed out that the Ball isn’t the only event going on this week – and that the community and visitors to the area can still participate in the annual celebration.
“There are still great opportunities during Rendezvous Royale week to enjoy and support the arts in Cody and the Center, whether online or in person,” she pointed out.
Kathy Thompson has directed the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale for almost 15 years. She says the live auction, which has brought in over a million dollars each year for the past few years, will go on as planned.
“We’re more limited in our numbers, but we are in our party tent again,” she smiled. “And we’re excited about that, everybody likes to party in a tent. I have 70 artists coming out of 109 (who have pieces in the show). Everybody wants to play.”
The Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale is the major fundraiser for the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, along with other local organizations. Thompson said this year’s event is the best ever.
“This is the 40th year of the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, so it’s quite a celebration this year,” she pointed out. “And knowing that, our artists brought on the very best show I’ve seen in 15 years. We have all kinds of mediums, and I must say, very little repetition of theme.”
The artists whose pieces are included in the sale range from celebrated painter M.C. “Mike” Poulsen, whose oil painting of an otter and a blue heron in a stream is valued at $7,800; to sculptor D. Michael Thomas, whose huge bronze of rodeo cowboy Chris LeDoux now stands at the gate to Frontier Park in Cheyenne. A smaller version of “Just LeDoux It” is part of this year’s show.
“We’re making new rules, new ways to sell our art,” Thompson noted. “We have ways, any way you can possibly buy a piece of art in here, you can do it. Whether you’re here in person, or you’re doing it online, or you’re talking to my phone bank, who are expert concierges, to help people purchase the art they want. And we’re hoping that everybody will look at every which way to do that, because these pieces all need to go home with someone.”
But the cancellation of an event like the Patron’s Ball, which has such an impact on the local economy, will have a trickle-down effect on small businesses. In a Facebook reply to the news that the Ball had been cancelled, local businesswoman Sarah Growney pointed out that the cancellation means that small businesses lose out on income.
“My hair lady just lost a job,” she observed. “Lots of nail techs will lose extra business. My seamstress will no longer get a check from me. Eyebrow wax lady- probably will have some cancellations- eyebrow exensions, tanning salon, babysitters, pizza delivery while kids are being babysat, taxi services, hangover meals at local breakfast hubs, etc. The servers that night. The caterer. The flower shops. The food vendors. The alcohol sales, servers, and tips. My shop and other shops and local restaurants where people may now otherwise decide not to visit if they decide to call off entire trip. Hotel and VRBO cancellations (which I am aware of one already.)”
But despite the cancellation of one part of the week’s events, Hoebelheinrich said she hopes that attendees will make the most of the other activities – especially the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, which is being put on with public safety in mind.
“Our event is a little different,” she pointed out. “We are in a 15,000 square foot tent, we have the ability to roll the flaps up and increase the ventilation. And normally, we would sell about 750 tickets to this event, and we’re only selling 300 tickets. We’re making some changes to how our buffet is served. We have increased restroom facilities, increased hand washing stations, and all of our patrons will be provided a KN95 mask, which will be in their packet.”
Hoebelheinrich adds that the Chamber of Commerce and the Center of the West are working together to make Rendezvous Royale as enjoyable – and safe – as possible.
“The reality of it is, there are very deep ripples to this,” she acknowledged. “And so when the Center of the West made their decision (to cancel the Patron’s Ball), our Chamber board made the decision to move forward (with the Art Sale). We took all of our health protocols, ran them by Park County Public Health, and received their blessing. And so, you know, we’re moving forward together, just very differently, with our local economy in mind.”