Vegas in Memphis

Children’s Museum gets flashy with largest fundraiser

By Aisling Maki

What happens at CMOM, stays at CMOM.

Co-chairs Alison Barton, left, and Erika Anderson unpack some of the Las Vegas-themed decorations in preparation for the Children’s Museum of Memphis’ biggest fundraising event of the year, Cirque du CMOM.  Museum CEO Dick Hackett said this year’s event will be the largest fundraiser in the museum’s history. (Photos: Lance Murphey)

The Children’s Museum of Memphis on Saturday will host the single largest fundraising event in its 21-year history with Cirque du CMOM: Viva! Las Vegas, a flashy, adults-only, Las Vegas-style extravaganza complete with live showgirls, a Rat Pack band and even a Little Chapel of Love.

“We’re going to transform the Little Malco Theatre into a nightclub with a concierge, bouncers, bottle service and a VIP line,” said Cirque co-chair Alison Barton. “You’re going to see every layer of Vegas that you could possibly want to see.”

The extravaganza started in 1991 as an event called Flying High, and has grown over the years to become one of Memphis’ most popular annual fundraising parties.

“It started out as the central way to raise funds for the museum on an annual basis,” said museum CEO Dick Hackett. “None in the past have come close to surpassing what this committee has done. It is substantially more than has ever been raised before.”

In fact, on Tuesday, the museum had its most successful PayPal day ever, as partygoers logged onto the museum’s website to purchase Cirque du CMOM tickets.

“We’ve never had this much money come in in one day,” said Hackett. “Records have been broken because of this enthusiasm and this community’s love for its children.”

Viva! Las Vegas! is the theme of this weekend’s Cirque du CMOM, the single largest fundraising event in the museum’s 21-year history.

Barton and co-chair Erika Anderson said most ticket-buyers are people who’ve fallen in love with the museum and its mission through their own children.

“Most ticket buyers are people with children who frequent the museum, and parents whose kids are long past the age of coming to the museum are coming back to the party each year,” Barton said. “It’s a wide range of attendees. But everyone knows the anchor this museum provides for the city. So we’re seeing individuals who don’t have children but want to support this great institution and keep it afloat.”

The co-chairs said support for Cirque du CMOM has come pouring in from every avenue, from friends who’ve volunteered to play the role of showgirls to an ice vendor who offered to deliver his goods free of charge.

“Even if they aren’t able to make a full donation, many vendors are doing a partial donation,” Anderson said. “We’ve been so impressed. We’ve rarely been told ‘no.’”

Hackett said the museum recently received two weather-related exhibits with support from The Assisi Foundation of Memphis Inc. Built in California, he said the total cost to ship the exhibits would be “in the neighborhood of $2,800. The tornado is pretty sensitive and had to have special care.”

But after hearing about Cirque du CMOM from a FedEx employee, the California company opted to ship the exhibits for free in exchange for six tickets.

“They’re coming here for the party and I believe they’re bringing a customer here with them,” Hackett said.

Barton and Anderson said tickets have been purchased by party-goers in Nashville, Little Rock and Atlanta.

The party’s theme changes annually. In 2010, the museum was transformed into the world-famous Moulin Rouge, and the previous year, CMOM was the scene of a Winter Wonderland.

“We completely revamp the feel of the party,” Anderson said. “They know that every year, Cirque will have a totally different feel, and the committee changes every year so there are fresh perspectives.”

As part of their duties, Barton and Anderson traveled to Las Vegas for party-planning ideas. Even the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority lent its support, sending the pair back with some authentic Vegas souvenir items for the party.

Push Nightclub at the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica will provide the Vegas-style nightlife, while local restaurants such as Au Fond, Café Society, Restaurant Iris and Thyme Bistro will serve up the evening’s delicacies.

“We wanted a taste of Vegas; when you go to Vegas, you can find anything you like, and I think we’re bringing that in with multiple food vendors and signature dishes from great restaurants,” Anderson said.

Hackett praised the ticket selling “dream teams” who have taken the event to a new level.

“For these ladies, this has been their life for a year, and this museum has been a big part of the lives of many children,” Hackett said. “Since this committee started and became so successful in planning this year’s event, we started doing things that aren’t in the budget because we knew this event would be so successful that we weren’t risking anything. That’s what Cirque does for us; it allows us to take another step for the museum. You can’t put a price tag on enthusiasm for our children.”

Tickets for Saturday’s event, which takes place from 7 p.m. to midnight, are $125 and can be purchased online at