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Art was in the air at Artafare

The Baltimore Sun

So, you walk into Maryland Institute College of Art and immediately spot a couple walking by with stars sticking out of their heads. Another couple walks by in Mexican sombreros. Over in the corner, you see someone with sparkles all over her face.

Just another day at one of the country's top art colleges? Ah, no.

This is the much-anticipated only-happens-every-other-year MICA gala, Artafare. And these aren't students you're seeing. They're the guests.

MICA supporters - including Gwen Davidson, Nancy Haragan, Delores Deluxe, Vince Peranio, Ted Frankel, Bill Gilmore, Wendy and Howard Jachman, Ginny Adams, Neal Friedlander, Deborah and Jeff Briggs, Jamie Sneak, Steve Ziger, Anne and Roger Powell, and Sarah and Mark Davison - had decorated rooms in the main administration building with different themes. Each guest was assigned a room, and was requested to dress accordingly.

It wasn't hard to guess where jewelry artist Betty Cooke and hubby Bill Steinmetz were heading.

Decked out in 10- gallon hats and wrapped in Tex-Mex serapes, they were bound for An Elegant Evening at Southfork, the room honoring the 1980's Dallas TV series creator David Jacobs.

Party hosts Claire and Lee Miller were all sparkly 1970's - she in a sequined miniskirt, he in a purple beaded vest. Their room? Ziggy Stardust Memories.

The room La Cantina de Diego y Frida, featured its own mariachi band.

The Let Us Entertain You room was a cacophony of black and white. And Lights, Camera, Baltimore! gave each of its guests great gift bags with perfume, jewelry, lipstick and a John-Waters-signed can of hairspray.

A Drink With Ruth Ann Norton

Exhilaration in her accomplishments

Ruth Ann Norton, 46, is an example of someone who has turned her life around. After serving a sentence in federal prison for a white-collar crime in 1991, she reexamined her life and dedicated it to community service. She joined the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in 1993 as its only paid staff person. As executive director, Norton has seen the coalition grow to become a national organization, with a staff of 30. Meanwhile, she claims Baltimore has gone from leading the nation in lead poisoning cases to leading the nation in the decline of lead poisoning - with a reduction of 96 percent. Norton is single and lives in Canton. When you first signed up for this gig, it was just supposed to be for two years. What happened?

I think [the] mission happened. I saw where we could actually change lives and also change the city. Because these are kids who go on the social payroll and lead a life of crime who can become children who lead, who become doctors, great writers. In very real terms. This isn't exactly a 9-to-5 job.

If you're an executive director, you're an executive director all the time. No matter what I do, that's what I do. ... It's exhausting. Let me describe it for you this way. You know how you go to New York City and it's exhilarating? It's exciting. And it's exhausting. But, it's the ability to accomplish that keeps bringing me back. Do you find you have to decompress at times?

Oh, I do. I'm great at shutting the door, running the bath and treating myself. Watching innumerable chick flicks. I'm a sucker for chick flicks. Do you have favorites you can watch over and over again?

Oh, all the time. That's my veg-out. ... Notting Hill, I love. I love Hugh Grant. I'm accused of watching Sleepless in Seattle dozens of times. Every Saturday morning, I watch movies with the dog. That's my favorite time.

Do you have a favorite "veg-out" food you eat while watching?

No. But, my real ritual for decompression is on Sunday evening. I was raised in a very Southern tradition of a big family dinner. But, my twist is I cook French every Sunday for any friends who want to eat it. It's the chopping and the peeling and the smell of the herbs. That's my therapy. Favorite dishes?

The more French it is, the more I love it. I'm a beef bourguignon kind of person. I also love Southern food: collard greens and fried chicken. Bad for the arteries and good for the heart, as my mother would say. What are your guilty pleasures?

When I can go in late to work. For me, that's 8 a.m. I'm a girl's girl. I love back rubs and facials ... spas. You know what my new thing is? You know all these single mothers and moms who are working really hard, who can't afford [spa treatments]? Honestly, wouldn't it make a difference if we could build into their lives an opportunity [for them] to treat themselves and decompress? ... We expect them to overcome so much, but we don't build that structure to help them refresh and renew. We really set aside people's emotional and mental health. So, if I won the lottery tomorrow night, everybody in Baltimore gets a free massage. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

If I could really do what I want to do in life - I'm doing one of those things, making an impact - I would like to be a great writer. The kind of writer that generations from now would read. No one would be surprised to know that when I was young, I wanted to be president. I also wanted to be an astronaut, but given the current publicity [about a female astronaut], I'm not so sure about that one. People who see me in the legislature would be really surprised to see that I have a sense of humor. Are there words you live by?

In the second half of my life - because it took me a long time to grow up - integrity is more important to me than anything else. I made big mistakes that taught me a lesson about being true to yourself and having integrity. I think you can have a happy life, if you have integrity. Do you have a happy life?

I have a fabulous life. I really do. I'm incredibly fortunate. ... My work has taught me [that] you learn what real privilege is. Privilege isn't money. Privilege is access, education. And with that comes a lot of responsibility.

Social Calendar

THURSDAY

STEPPIN' OUT TO THE TROPICS

Benefits TurnAround, Inc.

Business, casual, tropical attire

Where:

M&T; Bank Stadium, North Club Level

When:

6 p.m.

Tickets:

$75

Information:

410-377-8111 or turnaroundinc.org

THURSDAY

A NIGHT AT THE RACES

Benefits Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service

Business attire

Where:

Baltimore Museum of Industry

When:

6 p.m.

Tickets:

$125

Information:

443-451-4065 or mvlslaw.org

THURSDAY

ART BLOOMS OPENING NIGHT PARTY

Benefits Walters Art Museum

Cocktail attire

Where:

Walters Art Museum

When:

6 p.m.

Tickets:

$150

Information:

410-547-9000, Ext. 305 or thewalters.org

FRIDAY

2007 CELEBRATION

Benefits National Federation of the Blind

Business, cocktail attire

Where:

NFB Institute, 1800 Johnson St.

When:

5:30 p.m.

Tickets:

$75

Information:

410-659-9314, Ext. 2419 or nfb.org

SATURDAY

THE 2007 GALA

Benefits Anne Arundel Medical Center

Black tie

Where:

Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel

When:

6:30 p.m.

Tickets:

$250

Information:

443-481-4747 or aahs.org

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