HD South, home of the Gilbert Historical Museum

HD South, home of the Gilbert Historical Museum, is gearing up to present its seventh annual fundraising gala just as it’s poised to announce a building project.

“A Night at the Museum– Gilbert Comes Alive,” an evening blending food, art, local history and entertainment, is slated for 6-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, at the museum’s outdoor courtyard.

It will feature a buffet dinner by Phoenix caterer Cooking From Roots, appetizers sponsored by Quail Park and dessert by Nothing Bundt Cakes; entertainment by Amazing Dueling Pianos; and live and silent auctions that include a variety of gift baskets from spas, hotel stays, gift cards, an heirloom handmade coffee table and admittance to ghost tours of the museum.

Most of the auction items were donated by businesses and individuals in the community.

The emcee is former Miss USA, Jineane Ford, while her brother and professional charity auctioneer, Scott Ford, will conduct the auction. An army of volunteers, including students from Highland High Culinary Club, Campo Verde Junior Officer Training Corps and members from Gilbert Model Railroad Club will help.

“It takes a village to put this on,” said Kayla Kolar, president and CEO of HD South. “We have a very dedicated gala committee that works hard all year long.”

HD South holds two arts-based events that coincide with the gala, and guests may view them while there.

They are the 14th Annual Art of Quilting Show, with an additional display of 19th Century Basket Quilts from the American Quilt Study Group, which runs Feb. 26 to May 27, and Gilbert Visual Art League’s 16th Annual Juried Fine Art Show and Sale, which runs Feb. 9 to March 7.

The gala is important to HD South because it’s the largest source of funding for the private nonprofit.

“We are not owned or operated by the Town of Gilbert, and that means we have to raise all of our own money every year,” said Kolar.

In the gala’s first year, the organization netted $20,000; last year, it brought in $75,000. Each year’s proceeds helped implement a step of its new sustainable programming model, “Communities for All Ages.”

The success of the gala may be partly due to its delightful setting: The courtyard features vintage agricultural implements that serve as a backdrop and poignant reminder of the town’s beginnings.

Old-timers may recall that the first footsteps on those worn wooden floors and the first faces to look out of those adobe-surrounded windows were of young children, as this was originally an elementary school, built in 1913.

Established as a museum in 1982, for many decades thereafter it exhibited the town’s history in its many converted schoolrooms.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the town’s only one to hold that distinction.

“The history museum is not going anywhere, it’s our heart,” Kolar said. But in order to be sustainable, the museum has taken on a larger mission to transform itself into an arts, culture and history hub. Its location on the southern end of the Heritage District gave it its new moniker, HD South.

Building on those three elements, HD South presents public programming in history, art, science, music, literature and health and wellness.

Funds from the gala held two years ago enabled it to hire a program coordinator, Thom Hulen. Last year, it hired a management assistant, Melissa Windsor, who focuses on marketing.

The programming has become popular and to expand the program, the facility needs more space, a matter that can only be solved with a new building. That’s the project presently upmost on Kolar’s mind.

HD South will construct a 6,500-square-foot building with a remodeled courtyard and is in the quiet phase of a $2 million capital campaign. About half of its fundraising goal of 70 percent has been accomplished, but the nonprofit will appeal to individual community members for donations only after its initial goal is met.

The building will feature a commercial kitchen and space for programs and temporary exhibits. Associated Architects has designed it and Caliente Construction is the builder. None of the vintage buildings will be torn down for the project, but the agricultural implements will be moved elsewhere.

With these plans in the background, the programming, presented by artists, historians, storytellers, botanists and scientists, has taken on added importance.

The Communities for All Ages programming model takes an inter-generational approach to match the demographics of Gilbert, which is 35 percent under 19 years of age and more than 25 percent over 50 years old.

For youth, who receive less and less time with art in the classroom, it fills a gap in education. For seniors, it fosters creative aging, a term used to imply various forms of creative expression to positively impact the aging process and enhance the quality of life.

“We’ve got these big bookends of people and our programs are designed for all of them to do things together,” Kolar said. “We are into making that kind of an impact in those areas.”

HD South is located at 10 S. Gilbert Road. Tickets to the gala are priced at $75 and can be purchased online until Feb. 21 at hdsouth.org/events/a-night-at-the-museum. For programming, visit hdsouth.org/calendar. Details: 480-926-1577