Amy Gross had been looking forward to a party that would rival the luster of the Save Venice ball last year. A lavishly costumed affair that lit up the Plaza hotel in New York, it was seeded with social royalty and party fixtures including Lauren Santo Domingo, Princes Maria Olympia of Greece and Nicky Hilton Rothschild, each descending the grand staircase in cascades of organza and lace.

“What I’ll miss is the food, the exquisite gowns and headpieces, and the beautiful people that bring so much energy and creativity to this city,” said Ms. Gross, the executive director of Save Venice, which supports the restoration of Venetian art treasures.

She was lamenting the postponement of an event that brought in $1.2 million last spring, and is among the latest high-profile fund-raisers to be canceled or postponed in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak, a rupture in the rhythms of city life.

As bad news continued to mount, the Met Gala, the doyenne of glittering extravaganzas, announced on Monday that it had been postponed indefinitely. It is unclear if any more galas, which can number six or more a day at the height of the New York social season, will take place this spring. (One of the season’s last hurrahs was the reception for the exhibition “Studio 54: Night Magic,” on March 11 at the Brooklyn Museum, held one day before New York banned most gatherings of more than 500 people.)

“This feels like part of a major shift,” Ms. Gross said. “If the cancellations, closures and social distancing continue, it signals to me that this is a potential reset time.”

Routinely mocked as rubber-chicken dinners, ringing with garrulous speeches and thronged with pushy, table-hopping patrons, such affairs are nonetheless the philanthropic lifeblood of the city, filling coffers that are expected to drain as the pressure to pause or shut down entirely continues to climb.

There are revenue losses, of course, but in a city that thrives on networking, costs in social and professional capital may be as significant. More alarming still is the toll on services underpinning the state’s nonprofit economy, a sector employing more than 1.4 million people, according to the New York State comptroller’s office.

Feeling that impact directly are nonsalaried employees who don’t have a payroll tax holiday, Mr. Van Wyck pointed out. He has placed some 20 out-of-work freelance workers on a pay schedule. “But I don’t know how long I can do that,” he said.

The lockdown on gatherings is bound to take a psychic toll, reinforcing a sense of isolation and, in worst case scenarios, imperiling the health of future events.

In the best of times, charity parties can buttress a sense of camaraderie. “So many galas are about relationships and community,” Mr. Wier of the A.C.L.U. said. “A lot of what makes these events so valuable is building those relationships and bringing new people into the fold.”

For key supporters of Literary Partners, the annual dinner is a time for network building, Mr. Tassi said, “an evening of 20 people who brought 20 people, a group of friends coming together on a night of inspiration.”

In less lofty terms, the gala is also a place to flaunt social capital, claim a place in a mutable hierarchy and, yes, fan out one’s plumage. “People go to see and be seen,” Mr. Druckman of Kips Bay said, stressing the latter. “In an organization that represents the design industry, people certainly like to look their best.”



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