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Small art raises big bucks

Vibrant paintings by children will hang next to artwork from professional artists at the Circle of Art silent auction on Sunday, May 15th.


Sculptor and painter Valerie Mann came up with the idea for the art show seven years ago when she was wondering how she could help people in the area who were struggling economically.

She bounced the idea off her friend Peter Bowe.

Bowe is co-owner of Saline Picture Frame Company. He says, “When you have a business in a small town there’s a lot of need people are always asking for money to sponsor an event or that sort of stuff.”

The two friends figured they knew a lot of people who made art, had a cool space (the frame store) and had the tools and materials to mat and hang works of art.

So they asked folks to donate small pieces of artwork like a sketch they’d already done, or something that wouldn’t take too much effort to produce.

In seven years, they’ve made $100,000 and all the cash has gone to Food Gatherers, a non-profit that feeds people-in-need in Washtenaw County. (Artists don’t make any money.) This year 400 works of art are for sale and they expect to raise $20,000 from the event.

Brett Egan is the director of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Centerfor the Performing Arts. He says these artists have found a creative way to be generous.

“When we see so many arts organizations from major orchestras to small theaters facing extinction in some cases, (here) you have a group of people at what we might think of as the vanguard of philanthropy.”

Egan says the show takes “under-utilized resources” like small pieces of art that an artist has sitting around the house and turns those into cash. But something else strikes Egan. He thinks the artists and organizers are people who have had their own financial struggles in their lives.

I asked organizer Valerie Mann if this was the case, and she said yes. She says the artists in the show range from single folks just trying to make ends meet to others who are retired and living on fixed incomes.

At the end of the day, though, what they’re doing is actually pretty basic, says organizer Peter Bowe.

“You can make a picture, you can buy a picture and you can have the beauty or the statement or whatever else, but you can also feed a little kid. There’s something powerful about that.”

Both Bowe and Mann say they could never write a check, as an individual, for $100,000 or $1,000.  But when they pool their resources and get their friends on-board who then donate some art, they are able to cut a check that size, and in this case, give the money away.

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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