Art in Bloom, the annual fund-raiser for The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, is trying something new with its silent auction. Rather than buying work by local artists, patrons will bid on chances to experience their art with them.
Winning bidders at Art in Bloom should like this approach — almost as much as the artists do.
For example, Helene Steene is offering a winning bidder and as many as five of his or her friends the chance to spend an afternoon in her Loudoun House studio, learning her painting techniques and using them to create their own art.
Another winning bidder will get to bring as many as 20 people on a private tour of Stephen Rolfe Powell's new hot-glass studio in Danville. They also will see a demonstration of Powell's work, which has brought him international acclaim.
Painting lessons with Mary Ann McKee are up for auction, as is a drawing class with Anne Wehrley Bjork. A winning bidder and as many as four friends will get to spend an afternoon with John Lackey at his Homegrown Press studio in the renovated old Spalding's Bakery building. Lackey will show how he makes woodblock prints, and he'll give them each one to take home.
Weaver Philis Alvic and mixed media glass artist Dan Neil Barnes are offering a private tour of their studios for as many as four people. The tour comes with a $150 gift certificate for dinner at Nick Ryan's. Many of the other experiences also include food or refreshments from restaurants, including Stella's Kentucky Deli, Flag Fork Farm and the Mousetrap.
Other auction items include a private tour for as many as four people at the Folk Art Center in Morehead and a visit with famous folk artist Minnie Adkins at her home in Elliott County.
Susan Goldstein and Jim Wenneker will invite winning bidders to see art collections in their homes. Ed and Kay Thomas are offering a tour of their beautifully restored 1792 home in Bourbon County; lunch is included. Additional auction offerings are still coming in.
"We thought this would be a fresh approach," said Marsha Bloxsom, chair of Art in Bloom's auction committee.
Patrons who attend fund-raisers such as Art in Bloom love art, but they don't always need more of it for their homes.
"How much better it could be to have a shared experience with friends," she said. "There are people who are interested in the process as much as the art itself."
Besides, Bloxsom said, this approach is fairer to local artists, who often struggle to support themselves financially while doing the work they love.
"When they donate something, it's a piece they could have sold," she said. "It's money out of their pocket. And when it sometimes goes for little at an auction, it is almost insulting."
Some local non-profit groups split auction proceeds with artists, but others simply ask for donations. Artists can't even get much of a tax benefit, because they can deduct only the cost of materials, not their time. Bottom line: Artists can be reluctant to donate their best work.
"I think it's good exposure for the artists to do it this way," said Steene, who in addition to being a professional artist is a volunteer docent at the museum and a member of Art in Bloom's auction committee.
"Visiting a studio can be an eye-opener," said Steene, who uses pure pigments, marble dust and other substances to create abstract paintings with multiple layers of complex colors and textures. "I'm going to reveal some of my techniques and let people try them to create their own art."
Steene, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, who has lived here since 1987, said she is amazed at the flowering of Lexington's art community in just the past five or six years. This fund-raising approach allows artists to showcase not only their work but their passion in ways that could lead more people to buy original art — or try creating it themselves.
"I think people would enjoy art more if we took some of the mystery out of it," she said. "This way, they can come into our world and see what it's like."