To celebrate their 25th anniversary of helping young people realize their dreams of becoming artists, Ryman Arts is throwing a gala on April 19 that promises to be quite a magical night.

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Herb Ryman (the guy who designed that lovely castle at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. – you may have seen it once or twice) was an artist and Imagineer who was so beloved that after his death in 1989, his friends got together and started teaching teenagers art on the weekends. Starting with a single class of 12 students, there are now 40 classes and about 600 students learning to draw and design. Just about every student who has gone through the program goes on to college and/or a career in creative industries. Low-income area schools are often “art deserts”; about 80% of Ryman Arts students are low-income, however, admission is based upon merit and competition to get in is fierce.

The gala will be held at The Edison Downtown, a former electric power plant that has been exquisitely converted into a gloriously swanky steampunk club (Imagineering-level theme work). The event will feature Memphis/Chicago Blues quintet Bluez Express. The members of the band include Jonny “The Greek” Leonudakis (Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, One Man’s Dream), Joe “Tubs” Lanzisero (Mystic Manor, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin), “Deep Dish” Chicago Pete Leber (Disney, ILM), Ted Robledo (New Fantasyland), and “Big Bruce” Johnson (Audio-Animatronics). Yep, all present or former Imagineers. I got to hear one of their songs, “Express Boogie”. They’re really good!

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You can be a part of this incredible evening, which will help to support Ryman Arts and all the good work they do, while rubbing elbows with Disney luminaries like co-hosts Marty and Leah Sklar and Jill Whelan (Airplane!, The Love Boat, The Brian and Jill Show). The evening includes entertainment, food and dancing to a live DJ and, of course, Bluez Express.

There are two levels of participation for the event. The VIP participants will enjoy a full buffet dinner and bar, as well as aerialists and other entertainment from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. General Admission is from 7 to 10:00 PM and includes tray-passed food and bar, and everyone will celebrate together. VIP tickets are $500 per person, while General Admission is $175. Ryman alumni get a nice break on this for $100. You can buy tickets on the Ryman Arts website or by phone (will call only) at (213)629-2787.

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If you can’t make it, but would like to support Ryman Arts, you can make a PayPal donation as well. It’s a nice way to say “thank you” to the man who gave Disneyland its castle and help some very worthy young artists at the same time.