Ijams Nature Center Symphony
Dana Nies inspects one of the items offered at the silent auction portion of the "Symphony in the Park" fundraising event at Ijams Nature Center on Sunday, September 8, 2019.

South Knoxville was treated to a night of conversation and music as earth-minded socialites occupied the natural vistas of Ijams Nature Center.

Ijams Nature Center hosted its 34th annual “Symphony in the Park” fundraiser on the evening of September 8.

Ijams Nature Center Symphony
The symphony playing at the Ijam's Nature Center "Symphony in the Park" fundraising event on Sunday, September 8, 2019.

The nature center is one of Knoxville’s premier nature preservation groups. The night’s event was the organization’s largest annual fundraiser for the center’s preservation efforts. The event featured a silent auction and a dinner concert from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

As the evening began and guests flowed into the large tents outside the Ijams visitors center, the air filled with the sounds of conversation and ambient nature. Eventually, there was not a single spot under the large canvas that wasn’t filled to the brim with event patrons, catering staff or Ijams employees.

While the event is now the nature center’s largest fundraising event, it began as a simple picnic between friends, executive director Amber Parker said.

“One of our original board members and long-time supporters Sharon Lee started it as a picnic on the lawn (where) we had people come out and play some music, and it’s just grown from there,” Parker said. “We’ve gone from a picnic to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.”

In years past, the “Symphony in the Park” event has raised over $100,000 each year budget through ticket sales. That makes up over 10% of the nature preserve’s annual operating. Attendees also contributed to the group’s efforts by participating in a silent auction, where they could bid on goods like potted plants, food baskets or jewelry.

“We are holding it to raise funds and to keep Ijams going and do some really amazing things here,” Parker said. “Everything that happens is based on what people give, so that’s really important to us.”

According to the long-term plan presented to attendees, Ijams seeks to lower their carbon footprint, improve their connectivity to the rest of Knoxville and increase community involvement.

Ijams Nature Center Symphony
Amber Parker, Ijam's Nature Center's public relations director, gives a speech at the "Symphony in the Park" fundraising event.

Mark Rice, a private contractor designing currently working on the center’s Primal Playground expansion, said that Ijams has been doing well following their plan.

“They are continuing their due diligence to bring, not just an awareness, but a passion for nature for being out in it. The more we’re out in it, the more we value it,” Rice said. “They seem to be constantly growing and making us better stewards of the planet.”

Once the silent auction wrapped up, patrons and staff were seated on the nature center’s entrance lawn and dined as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra tuned their instruments. Once Amber Parker thanked everyone for their attendance, the symphony portion of the evening began.

The orchestra led the evening through time with selections of Mozart, The Beatles and even Lady Gaga. They also featured original music by Christina Horn, who’s lyrics spoke explicitly about nature and the environment.

According to Cindy Hassil, Ijams’ Development Director, the symphony is meant to connect attendees more to their planet.

Ijams Nature Center Symphony

Bo Townsend talks with a group of friends at the "Symphony in the Park" fundraising event in Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville on September 8, 2019.

“Our goal is to encourage people, through outdoor experiences and education, to protect the environment and be good stewards to the Earth, (and) everyone is inspired by art,” said Hassil.

The evening wrapped up with a rendition of Beethoven sending attendees off into the night.

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