Vienna’s Life Ball, fixture of fight against AIDS, to close

The opening ceremony of the 22nd Life Ball in Vienna May 31, 2014. — AFP pic
The opening ceremony of the 22nd Life Ball in Vienna May 31, 2014. — AFP pic

AUSTRIA, May 10 — One of the world’s biggest AIDS charity events, Vienna’s Life Ball, will be held for the last time in June, the organiser said today.

Gery Keszler said the progress achieved in fighting AIDS over the 26 years since the ball’s inception meant it had become harder to raise the funds to hold the event.

“AIDS has gone from being a death sentence to being a chronic condition. Because of this success we have the paradoxical situation that there are ever fewer people — both nationally and globally — who will support anti-AIDS projects,” Keszler told the Austrian APA news agency.

Launched by former make-up artist Keszler among others and hosted in the prestigious surroundings of Vienna’s Town Hall, the ball has raised around €30 million (RM125 million) for anti-AIDS causes within Austria and abroad, according to organisers.

Rooted firmly in activism among Vienna’s LGBT community, the ball grew into a major draw for celebrities, also attracting up to 45,000 spectators a year.

The event often grabbed headlines for the lavish costumes worn by famous guests — 2015’s “Holy Spring” theme saw the red carpet teem with paradise birds, angels and Amazonian beauties.

Attendees have run the gamut from the world of politics — such as former US president Bill Clinton — to fashion stalwarts like Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Naomi Campbell.

Actors, such as Charlize Theron, Sharon Stone, Sean Penn and Antonio Banderas, have also graced the event alongside music stars, such as Elton John and Austria’s own Conchita Wurst.

However, the amount of money raised has progressively fallen — reaching just €1.3 million in 2018 — making it more difficult to justify the resources needed to organise the event.

The 26th and final edition of the ball is set for June 8, with American actress Katie Holmes among those attending.

Holmes is an ambassador for the AmfAR anti-AIDS foundation. Extra tickets will be on sale to cater to an expected rise in demand for the last ball, Keszler said.

“We have had unbelievable, fantastic and intense years,” Keszler said, reflecting on the event’s history.

“We have achieved more than we ever would have dreamed of. I am so eternally grateful,” he said, adding: “It’s now time to bring this project to a good end.”

He said that the Life+ association, which is responsible for putting the ball on, would continue to combat anti-AIDS stigma and discrimination. — AFP

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