On a great night for the organization, Portland Ovations raises some $40,000 for a program that provides exposure to the arts to kids in Maine.

In a city with thriving arts, business and foodie communities, few events can capture the essence of Portland more than Portland Ovations’ annual POP! fundraiser – part performance, part money-making auction, part tasting party.

“All that I love most about Portland, Maine, is here in one room tonight,” said Amy Taylor, the youngest member of the Portland Ovations board, charged with recruiting the 20-something crowd.

“We put on events all year long, but this is a different kind of event,” said Aimee Petrin, executive director. “This is our sole and signature fundraiser, so it’s incredibly important to us.”

POP! raised $40,000 for Ovations Offstage, the behind-the-scenes arts education program that reaches more than 5,000 Maine students a year. Programs include school-time performances, pre-performance lectures, and master classes.

“We partner with lots of people in as organic a way as we can,” said Gretchen Berg, director of Ovations Offstage.

Case in point: John Saccone, who toured as a mime for 30 years, teaches circus arts to students at Merriconeag School, several of whom performed at POP! When Portland Ovations books circus-type acts, there is often a master class. “They bring in such master performers,” Saccone said. “To be able to have these master classes come to schools is wonderful.”

Another example: When Portland Ovations brings the Paul Taylor Dance Company to perform at Merrill Auditorium in November, there will be a master class at Portland Ballet. During the POP! auction, Portland Ballet dancers emerged from the crowd like flash-mob zombies, kicking off a tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” And then they performed an original contemporary work by ballet director Roberto Forleo, contrasting light balletic movements with heavy, pedestrian ones.

“So many people around us do such great work that it’s a treat to figure out how to collaborate with them,” Berg said.

“Tonight is about connecting our Ovations Offstage efforts with the community,” said Felicia Knight, vice president of the board. “As an organization, we believe that everyone should have a strong arts education, not at the expense of other things but just to enjoy life that much more. The path to discovery is different for different kids, and some find it through the arts.”

“I’m a big supporter of live performance,” said board member Louise Thomas. “I used to think that all these events and musicals just came to town. But it takes more than a year of planning and huge amounts of fundraising and effort.”

During POP!, 14 of southern Maine’s favorite or emerging restaurants offered tasty bites – enough to make a light meal of it by covering circling the room.

“It’s nice to have a little sample of everything,” said Molly Broadbent of Portland.

“The food was exceptional,” said Ken Slaunwhite of Falmouth, whose favorite was the Texas chili empanadas from Little Bigs. Other crowd favorites included David’s Restaurant, Royal Oak Room and Dean’s Sweets.

“We’re here to check out the art and the food, and hopefully bring something home tonight,” said Katrina Desjardins of Old Orchard Beach.

Elizabeth Stout of Portland bid on a photo of Bobby Orr for her brother. “He’s a middle-aged teenager,” she said. “I bid on it, and now I’m just monitoring.”

“I’m a little upset that I already got outbid on a couple things,” joked Robbie Woodsum of Portland.

Of 62 auction items, big money-makers included a Cannondale bicycle, a condo at Sugarloaf for Christmas week, and a Thos. Moser Eastward bench that became a popular resting spot. As anticipated, auction items included packages of tickets for upcoming Portland Ovations shows, from Joan Rivers to Handel and Haydn Society to Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

“I think many people are surprised by our broad range,” said Michael Boyson, president of the board. “This event gives them a taste of all that we do. We raise some money, but we also kick off our season and have fun.”

That makes sense, because entertainment is what Portland Ovations is about. It’s the reason Boyson first got involved.

“It goes back to a New Year’s promise to my wife to see more live performances,” he said.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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