Those familiar with Vogue’s annual Met Gala—and, let’s face it, at this point, it’s almost impossible not to be—will likely know it as “fashion’s biggest night out.” An evening where a list of carefully selected celebrity attendees announce their presence on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in full costume regalia and then move quickly inside to do who knows what, exactly.

Safe to say, whatever else it is—theatrical, camp, opulent, a reliable source of annual funding for the museum’s Costume Institute—the event isn’t what you’d call “inclusive.” Exclusivity, in fact, is one of the Gala’s main selling points—you don’t pay a reported $30,000 per ticket for a night out that just anyone can attend, after all.

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It’s with this in mind that the VFILES Foundation will host its first-ever NOT THE MET GALA event Sept. 12 in Williamsburg, New York, a day before the Gala itself, with a drastically different mission to its namesake. 

An incubator for up-and-coming talent since 2012, VFILES has consistently worked as an amplifier for voices too often drowned out by those who are louder but have less to say, and for talents whose creative accomplishments are too easily eclipsed by well-funded, mainstream PR machines. With grants, mentoring, access and education, VFILES aims to right these wrongs and put talent—rather than spectacle—front and center through community-driven programs and access to their high-profile platform. 

This is the basis of the Foundation’s overall mission and very much the cornerstone of NOT THE MET GALA—which makes sense, really, as these things are very much not the Met Gala

Held at 3 Dollar Bill—a considerably more down-to-earth venue, perfect for an event positioned not for the sake of posturing but rather with creative discovery and mutual appreciation in mind—tickets to the VFILES alternative offering are on sale now, priced at a much more agreeable $50, and come packaged with the knowledge that your money is being spent in ways that might genuinely change the life of an unknown creative talent.

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In the spirit of similar events—like The Guardian’s annual Not The Booker Prize award for fiction, for example—NOT THE MET GALA is a rallying cry against the worst characteristics of the industry in which it sits: not, by any means, a cure—but a salve and a welcome light left on for those marginalized creative talents, for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ creators and for women, who know, all too well, that they’ll be shut out in the dark when it comes to events that are heavily gatekept by those at the top. 

The mission, as with the VFILES vision in everything the foundation does, is to put power in the hands of those who can use it to make real, lasting impact; creatives who have the talent not only to inspire but to create waves that might—with the platform and the tools—create a sea change that goes as far as the mainstream. 

The tide is turning—previous VFILES talents have gone on to challenge for the LVMH Prize, win the prestigious Woolmark Prize and sign major deals across creative fields—and that’s a current we want to be swimming with. Not against.

Tickets for NOT THE MET GALA are available for purchase here.