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Event Co-chairs Collaborate and Reminisce While Planning the Speed Ball 50th Anniversary at the Speed Art Museum

Photos by: Matt Johnson

A Special Collaboration by VOICE-TRIBUNE and Speed Art Museum

In the evening of Saturday, March 2, the red carpet will be rolled out as the Speed Art Museum celebrates its 50th Anniversary of the Speed Art Museum Ball. Before the volunteer ball chairs and ball committee, and hundreds of museum guests don their white-or-black-tie attire — gowns and finery to celebrate the Speed Art Museum, the Speed Art Museum team sat down with Speed Ball co-chairs to get a glimpse into what we can expect at this year’s event. 

We wanted to discover how the iconic event plays a starring role in supporting the museum’s initiatives, and how event organizers expect the evening will ensure the Museum has the necessary resources to allow everyone in the community to visit and experience all that the Speed Art Museum has to offer.

This year’s 50th Anniversary Speed Ball Co-Chairs are:

Tawanda Chitapa

Susan Dabney Lavin and Allan Lavin

Woo Speed McNaughtonLopa Mehrotra and Rishabh Mehrotra

“The Ball provides a venue where members of the community can gather to celebrate and support the museum’s effort to make great art accessible to our community,” said Co-chair Susan Dabney Lavin. 

Organizers expect about 1,000 guests to attend. Speed Ball guests enjoy a cocktail hour and dinner in the galleries, followed by Late Night at the Speed with dancing, desserts and live music featuring The Block Party Experience, starting at 9 PM.

“As this is our 50th Speed Ball, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a record attendance. I want people to know how great the museum truly is, and hopefully bring in people who really are not familiar with all that it has to offer, and bring in younger people for the “Late Night” party,” said Lavin, whose spouse, Allan, is a co-chair.

While these community leaders are spearheading the annual fundraiser because of their shared love of the arts, each brings a unique perspective on how they want the museum to feel to guests, as they step into the glass-encased Atrium, peruse the newer wings, and wander around the Beaux-Arts building. They all agree that nothing beats the experience of dining among Old Master paintings or dancing with friends near world-class contemporary art.

Co-chair Woo Speed McNaughton, who also co-chaired in 2018 and attended the first Ball in 1974, can safely say she’s skipped very few balls in her lifetime. She even points out that she served as a special volunteer hostess for the event when she was only 16 years old – long before the 21-and-older age requirement came onto the scene. Woo is a descendant of the Speed family of which Hattie Bishop Speed founded the Museum in 1927 in honor of her husband, James Breckinridge Speed.

Woo attends the Ball every year because “it feels like home,” she said. “I was raised there, and I regularly worked there as a volunteer alongside my grandparents and parents.” Even her daughter, Austin, volunteered as a Ball hostess at the event for seven years.

“The Ball is – and always has been – a huge thank you to the community, first and foremost. That’s what it’s all about. We help raise money so that people here can be collaborative, and we’re here to make sure we can open our doors and welcome those who walk through our doors.”

Woo said she decided to lead the Ball’s planning efforts because she sees the community embracing the museum as more of a community-focused destination. 

“Everyone gets included and everyone gets to come,” she said, adding that Owsley Sundays are when the museum offers free general admission to the public.

In addition to the well-known bands, music, show stopping flowers, drinks and gourmet menu items, the evening forms an important backbone for the organization as the museum’s largest annual fundraising initiative. 

The Speed Ball is the most significant annual fundraiser for the Speed Art Museum. According to Director Raphaela Platow, sponsorships and ticket sales for the Speed Ball are crucial to the Museum’s mission.

“The Speed is committed to be a museum for the entire community and provide an art experience for all. Once guests step inside, they’re able to see not only our magnificent art; they discover that we have a Speed Cinema, a café, an Art Sparks play and learning room for children, and that we offer a host of lectures and “After Hour” evenings. We strive to make our offerings and events fun and interesting because we want everyone to take advantage of this community hub – and then tell their friends,” said Platow. “I love the Ball because we literally get to dance while raising money.”

Funds raised through the Ball provide financial strength and operational excellence through our strategic pillars, groundbreaking exhibitions, conservation of the Speed’s collection, and community engagement and educational programs that expand participation in the arts. Ball proceeds also support “Speed for All,” a program that provides free family memberships to those for whom the cost of membership is a barrier.

“We are so very appreciative to all those who have helped conceive the first Ball and all the amazing chairs and guests over the past 50 years,” said Platow. “Each year, we are in awe by the sheer force of fundraising and community building that takes place behind this event. I’ve talked to many of the earlier Ball chairs from long ago and they are completely overjoyed.”

“Rishabh and I first attended the Ball around 2006 and we co-chaired the first-ever virtual Speed Ball in 2021, with the intention to Keep the Ball Rolling that year,” said Lopa Mehrotra, who, along with her husband, Rishabh, has stepped up again to lead the effort. “And, here we are, rolling into the 50th year of this incredible event, thanks to the resilience of our team and the deep support and friendship of this community. We are so honored to contribute in any way we can toward continuing this legacy of inviting everyone to celebrate art.”

“I have been taking our little ones to the museum since we first got to Louisville in 2003 and Art Sparks was a regular stop for us,” said Lopa. “The Ball was our first chance to come to the museum as ‘real grown-ups.’ We were amazed - the beauty, the elegance, the hospitality, and always the people. The Speed has always been such a welcoming place to us, with supporters who are warm and caring and wish to share art with everyone. As we honor the past, we look toward a future of continued growth and transformation at the Speed.”

While not shy to showcase all that the museum has to offer, Lopa doesn’t want to spoil any secrets, but hints that guests will get to see the Speed’s new ‘facelift’ and have the opportunity to view a long-anticipated exhibition. Lopa also serves as chair of the Speed’s Board of Trustees.

“We’re excited to showcase some changes. And, Rishabh is especially proud to share the exhibition India: South Asian Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art, which opens Feb 16. This very special exhibition will be open for viewing that night, and will bring even more beauty, romance and wonder to the evening,” said Lopa.

Co-chair Tawanda Chitapa, an executive with Norton Healthcare, is quick to emphasize that this is the “most sought-after event in the city, if not the region, because guests get to experience a world-class event and celebration with a magnificent ambiance.”

“To be a part of the planning of this brings me great pride and joy. We really want this to be a great community event that helps celebrate the Speed and what it stands for in the community,” he said, adding “you just never know who you will meet there.” 

Chitapa currently serves as secretary of the museum’s Board of Trustees.

Because of her long-standing volunteerism with the museum, Co-chair Susan Lavin, who also serves on the Board of Trustees, feels that her connections with the staff and curators inspired her to spearhead plans for the Ball’s 50th anniversary.

“It’s the art and the people at the museum that keep drawing me back,” she said. “I’m really close to them and I love learning more about the museum and the art through them. I have formed lasting friendships through a lot of my time here - actually, great friends as well as great teachers.”

The Speed Art Museum is located at 2035 S. Third Street, Louisville, KY 40208

For tickets and more information about the Speed Art Museum Ball and Late Night at the Speed, please visit


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