In a city of museum titans, what fund-raising tack works for a relative newcomer? For the Museum of Arts and Design, nearing three years in its modern Columbus Circle space, the strategy seems to be young and irreverent.

Leo Tecosky, Mark C. Kessel, Mark O. Naylor, Jordan Baker-Caldwell and Jason Minami attend the 2011 MAD Rare Earths Fluorescent Ball at Museum of Art and Design on May 16, 2011 in New York City.

Its spring gala, on a misty Monday night, tried to build cachet through its younger patrons, like Waris Ahluwalia, Tyson Beckford, Karim Rashid and Mazdack Rassi, the founder of Milk Studios in the meatpacking district.

“It’s nice to be part of an institution that’s not 100 years old,” said Mr. Ahluwalia, the turban-wearing jewelry designer who cuts a dashing figure on the downtown social set.

Housed in the former Lollipop Building, the museum is devoted to “the blur zone” among art, design and craft. But it was the party itself that was blurring the line. This year’s theme, the Rare Earths Fluorescent Ball, was underwritten by Molycorp Minerals, which calls itself the Rare Earths Company, and by the Continental Mining and Metallurgical Corporation.

The 500 guests seemed nonplussed by the sponsorship. “I’m guessing it has a lot to do with our environment and how special our planet Earth is?” Tyson Beckford, the pillow-lipped male model, speculated, when asked about the rare earth connection. “I’ll have to Google that when I get home.”

He would have to wait. Despite the party’s advertised start time of 7 p.m., the museum’s nine floors were largely empty for the first several hours. The top level held an intimate dinner for the museum’s board members, while most folks drifted to the second and seventh floors, where champagne, vodka cocktails and Red Bull were served, and art pieces by emerging designers, photographers and artists were up for sale.

An early arrival was Alison Brie, the television actress ( “Mad Men,” “Community”), who eyed a piece by Tom Fruin. “I love the neon noose,” she said. “But it might send a weird message if I have it hanging in my house.”

The young designer crowd began pouring in at 9 p.m. Mr. Ahluwalia chatted with Vena Cava’s Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock. Bliss Lau explained her fluorescent body chains; the jewelry designer Eddie Borgo, in his trademark wide brim hat, cheek-kissed Jen Kao.

In keeping with the fluorescent theme, one duo flaunted colorful clown wigs, while another patron donned a neon pink bob, like the type you’d find on Harajuku girls. Staff members were also on hand to pass out glow-in-the-dark sticks, which were quickly fashioned into bracelets and eyeglasses.

With only two elevator banks, a small traffic jam formed on the second floor, where Paul Sevigny took over the D.J. booth, playing quirky retro tracks and crowd pleasers like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Circling the dance floor was Mandy Coon, the fashion designer usually clad in black. “I’ve never been into neon, even when I was young,” said Ms. Coon, who wore a colorful tunic. “But who knows, after tonight, maybe I’m ready for a revival.”