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Life Work

[whitespace] Art for Life
Janet Orsi

People power: The 11th annual Art for Life exhibit and auction features work by 250 local artists, including Cloverdale sculptor and painter Carol Setterlund.

Art for Life fundraiser brings out the best in local artists

By Patrick Sullivan

FOR ANYONE laboring under the comfortable illusion that the AIDS crisis is over, Rick Dean has some unpleasant news. As the associate director of Face to Face Sonoma County AIDS Network, Dean has spent more than a decade working to provide essential services for people with the disease. He says the need for public involvement in the struggle has never been greater.

"Our caseload is at the highest point it's ever been," Dean says as he sits in his Santa Rosa office. "The good news is that people with AIDS are living longer. That doesn't mean that they aren't continuing to be our clients, continuing to have needs--different, more complicated needs. And, in addition, people are still becoming infected. So the need for our services is growing."

But, while the need is clear, the fight to find funding for Face to Face's important mission is tougher than ever. What's a non-profit to do in this depressing age of donor fatigue and federal budget cutbacks? The organization's creative response to that challenging problem has led to an annual art event that has developed into both a fundraising juggernaut and something much more.

For the past 10 years, the Art for Life auction has sold work donated by hundreds of local artists to benefit Face to Face. Somewhere along the way, the event became a landmark institution in the local art world, drawing artists and art collectors from all over the Bay Area and beyond.

"Art for Life is a prestigious event," says Ina Chun, events coordinator for Face to Face. "Even if people don't know it's a fundraiser for us, they still want to come."

"That's always been the intention," says Dean. "We didn't want to attract only people who would come to an AIDS fundraiser. We wanted to make it about art."

The event began in 1987, when an artist donated a piece to Face to Face. That donation sparked the idea of an art show, and now the list of participants reads like a Who's Who of Sonoma County artists: Everyone from Jack Stuppin to found-object wizard 3-D Edddy is involved. Art insiders say that the prestige of the event and the worthiness of the cause have combined to arouse a passionate loyalty among local artists, who donate valuable pieces year after year. Some even create artwork specifically for the show. Indeed, last year Face to Face honored the 10 artists who had participated for all 10 years of the event. But even some of those who became involved more recently say they now can't imagine not donating.

"I'll participate every year that I'm asked," says Carol Setterlund, a sculptor and painter from Cloverdale. "There are an awful lot of fundraising auctions out there, and I do donate to many of them, but [Face to Face] is the one I will always donate to."

The pieces donated to Art for Life will be available for leisurely viewing by the public at a pre-auction exhibit opening Sept. 16 at the Friedman Center in Santa Rosa. That's quite a change from the early days of the event, when organizers set a whirlwind pace.

"The first couple of years we did everything in one day," Dean recalls with a chuckle. "We arrived at the Flamingo Hotel, received all the artwork, set the whole thing up, had the auction, cleaned up, and went home. ... People kept saying that it was such a shame that we were collecting all this beautiful artwork and relatively few people were getting to see it ... so we decided to let it stay up for a few days."

Another recent innovation is sponsorship of the event by local businesses. That funding allows Art for Life to seamlessly pass along almost 100 percent of the money raised to fund AIDS-related services. (However, some artists do elect to take a small cut from the sale of their work.) What does that mean in concrete terms for people with AIDS in Sonoma County?

"The event really keeps us going," Dean says. "Art for Life is our biggest annual moneymaker, and we really depend on it to keep the agency alive."

In short, the money keeps Face to Face open and able to continue its valuable work, which includes street outreach programs, case managers who help sick people navigate the tricky maze of modern medicine, and assistance with housing. The last is extremely important for the agency's clients, the majority of whom live on $650-a-month disability payments.

How stressful is it to put on an event that requires the work of over 200 volunteers? Dean and Chun admit it's not always easy. But the rewards, they say, are spectacular.

"It just blows you away when you're standing there surrounded by all that generosity and creativity," Dean says with a smile.


The Art for Life pre-auction exhibit runs Sept. 16-18. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. on Sept. 16 and 18, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 17. Admission is free. The Art for Life Auction runs from 3:30 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 19. Admission to the auction is $39. Both events take place at the Friedman Center, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa. 544-1581.

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From the September 10-16, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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