She has ingeniously transformed Marion Square into an elegant Mandarin milieu complete with koi pond and wooden rickshaws. She’s cleverly conjured the glitz of Bollywood with vibrant saris, ethereal sitar music, and a live camel at cocktail-hour. She’s even created an oversize champagne-glass chandelier and hired stilt walkers to cut down flutes for a birthday toast. And come November 17, she will summon vintage Cuba to the Gaillard Auditorium for one hot Little Havana night. Yes, Tara Guérard is a master of magical worlds. But the fantastical celebrations she invents for the Circle of Light Gala serve a very real purpose—raising money and awareness for the prevention of child sexual abuse.
For seven years, this merrymaker has generously donated time, staff, and resources from her thriving event design business, Tara Guérard Soirée, to produce Darkness to Light’s biggest annual fundraiser. She executes the evening’s timeline, entertainment, volunteer chefs, sponsors, and décor, working months in advance to ensure a flawless fête. And while the effort would typically cost a client upwards of $100,000, Guérard orchestrates this elaborate affair free of charge. “I can’t personally write a check big enough to pay for such an event,” she says, “but I can give my ideas and energy to create it.” And thanks to her well-honed party prowess, that soirée has become one of the hottest tickets in town.
Life of the Party: (Clockwise from top left) A birthday-themed celebration for Darkness to Light’s 10th anniversary in 2010; a 2005 theme of “illumiNations” honored the light the organization shines on a worldwide problem; Bollywood, 2009; a sleek lounge awaits guests at the 2010 gala.
“The Circle of Light Gala has the reputation of being a premier Charleston event,” says Darkness to Light founder Anne Lee. “Tara creates a ‘wow’ factor that keeps folks coming back and has also helped make it a destination event.”
So how did Darkness to Light land such a talent? The board members asked. And asked. Finally in 2005, tired of trying to give a little bit to many groups, Guérard decided to dedicate her pro bono work to a cause she was passionate about. “I’m not a survivor of sexual abuse, and for that I count my stars. But I am a child of divorce and from a small town,” she explains, noting that all too often, abuse does arise from such a scenario. And as a mother of three, including a newborn, she has a vested interest in motivating the community to participate in training for sexual abuse prevention. “The problem is still something no one wants to talk about, and it’s crazy how common it is,” says Guérard. But perhaps one day—through the extraordinary efforts of this creative spirit and the dedicated staff of Darkness to Light—child sexual abuse will be a reality as distant from this time and place as the imaginative worlds that Guérard designs.
“Understated, elegant, and delightfully Southern.”
Guérard often gets inspiration for her theatrical settings from the window displays at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.
Old Cuba—“Think Art Deco, white dinner jackets, black-and-white movies, and cigars.”
Without the generous donations of sponsors and supporters, the Circle of Light Gala would cost Darkness to Light some $500,000 to produce.
Gala guests usually number between 550 and 650.
Since 2002, the Circle of Light Gala has brought in close to $3.5 million and is the largest source of unrestricted funds Darkness to Light raises each year.