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Cynthia Spencer

Cynthia Spencer-Hadlock, the executive director of The Arts Center in Corvallis, is pictured in the center's main gallery space. The Arts Center is holding its annual "Chocolate Wonderland" fundraiser at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the Oregon State University campus.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Arts Center's chocolate-themed fundraising benefit, and even as the event has grown, the basic ideas behind the gala have stayed constant.

One of the key goals, said Cynthia Spencer-Hadlock, the executive director of The Arts Center in Corvallis, is "to feature creativity in a different way." And the event gives each year's featured culinary artists a chance to show off their skills and creativity in another artistic medium: chocolate.

"Chocolate Wonderland," the theme for this year's annual benefit, serves as a showcase for six chocolatiers, who will compete for three prizes on Saturday. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the Oregon State University campus.

"Chocolate Fantasy" also gives a showcase to 30 artists (30 to mark 30 years), who will have art available for purchase during the event. Proceeds go to benefit The Arts Center — and the artists, who can choose to collect their usual commission or can donate to the center. It reminds Spencer-Hadlock of her younger days as an artist: "I always gave, because wasn't able to write a big check."

Spencer-Hadlock said the chocolate competition always brings out a variety of creative expression. One entrant this year, DAM (the Determined Art Movement), is a social justice art group that "wants to share the cultural significance of chocolate," she said.

Other entrants this year include the Little Wuesten German Cafe, Burst's Chocolates, New Morning Bakery, the Trillium Old School Cafe and Lady C's CakePan.

Attendees at Saturday's event will get tokens through which they can vote for their favorite chocolate creations, and judges are instructed to take the popular vote into account as they make their final determinations.

The event is a major fundraiser for The Arts Center; events like these make up about 10 percent of the center's $500,000 budget each year, Spencer-Hadlock said. Proceeds from the event are earmarked for the center's art education programs.

The "Chocolate Wonderland" theme is meant to continue last year's "Sense of Wonder" theme, and guests are encouraged to come wearing "Mad Hatter"-style head wear. Also on hand this year will be the Smile Photo Booth, and the Oregon Pink Plastic Flamingo Sanctuary.

New this year is a preview event, to be held Thursday at The Arts Center, 700 SW Madison Ave. in Corvallis. "ArtBar@The Arts Center — Chocolate Edition" runs from 5 to 8 p.m. The event gives attendees a chance to preview the art to be auctioned Saturday, while sampling chocolate inspired cocktails from three local distilleries. In addition, people will have the chance to create their own Mad Hatter hat, which could come in handy Saturday night. The cover charge for the Thursday event is $10.

The events have a serious goal, to raise money for The Arts Center. But Spencer-Hadlock points to another important goal as well:

"We just hope people will come and have fun," she said. "The theme this year is creative connections. We encourage people to be whole by exploring their own creativity and connecting to others through art."

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