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The murder mystery-themed annual fundraising gala is happening April 7 ; tickets are on sale now.

COURTESY: SHERWOOD CENTER FOR THE ARTS - The theme for last year's Center for the Arts fundraising gala was "Under the Big Top."When the Sherwood Center for the Arts opened in 2015, a group of Sherwood residents knew that the Center might need more funding than what the city could give it. So they formed the Friends of the Sherwood Center for the Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the center.

"We have this group of citizens who thought, okay, we have to think of other ways that we can support this facility," said Maggie Chapin, manager of the center. "Because this is a really small town, and there's a limited budget."

A year later, the Friends held its first annual fundraising gala — and now, the third annual gala is slated for Saturday, April 7 at the Center for the Arts. The Friends hope to meet last year's fundraising total of about $20,000, which the organization will use to fund classes at the center and provide small grants to different local arts groups.

After two crowd-pleasing themes — the 1920s-style "Puttin' on the Ritz" in 2016 and last year's circus theme — Chapin knew that this year's party had to be just as dynamic.

"It's kind of become the party of the year," she said. "It's a don't-miss. And so we kind of have set this really high bar for ourselves with entertainment and decoration and the silent auction."

This year's theme: "A Night of Murder and Mystery," complete with actors from the Murder Mystery Company who will interact with the crowd.

Why murder mystery? "'Cause it's fun," Chapin responded.

"We had a lot of themes up in the air," she added. "But a murder mystery theme, it's suspenseful, it's engaging and fun. It was the one that won."

The night's festivities will include a cocktail hour with games, a silent auction, a raffle, a pledge drive, and a locally catered dinner and drinks provided by Sherwood vendors. The silent auction will include many Sherwood-centric gift baskets, with treats from local restaurants, shops and breweries.

"We're very fortunate to have all the local businesses that contribute to make this happen," said Leah Burgess, the center's events and programs coordinator. "It really is a community effort to help fundraise."

The center goes all-out when it comes decorations and entertainment — last year's gala included a stilt walker to go with the circus theme — and Chapin and Burgess said they look forward to seeing attendees in their finest themed apparel each year. Though the fundraiser is in just its third year, it's on its way to becoming a Sherwood institution.

"If you're just doing an auction, that's fine," Chapin said. "But we're trying to build an audience and appreciation, and to make people feel like this place is theirs. The more interactive and more fun we can make these events, the more we're going to accomplish that."

Tickets to attend the gala can be purchased at the center's website, http://www.sherwoodcenterforthearts.org. Sponsorship options are also available there.

"It's possible somebody at your table will be the murderer," Chapin said. "Who knows? They might not even know."

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