Saturday, January 15, 2011


Not to out anybody, age-wise, but hands up, everyone who remembers the original Hearts for the Arts. For 20 years, it was the second-most important event of the year to the local art community (after Open Studios), an annual art auction staged at the Civic Auditorium on the Saturday closest to Valentine's Day as a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County Cultural Council. Hundreds of artists donated original pieces of art (often, but not exclusively, with a hearts/love/romance motif) in return for tickets for self and spouse to the event. The rest of the tix were snapped up by eager art patrons, some of whom saved up all year (as Art Boy's collectors often told him) to be able to finance their Hearts addiction on the big night.

It was always a mob scene. With doors opening at 4 pm, the Civic was jam-packed by dark, with eager attendees jostling each other between the dozen or more Silent Auction tables set up on the floor, or thronging together at the central feeding trough where the hors d'ourvres were laid out. (In later years, they sensibly removed the food to a spacious tent outside.) You could buy drink tickets for local wines at libation stations strategically placed around the perimeter, but Art Boy and I soon figured out it was easier to pack in our own repast (Tupperware dishes of pasta; baguettes and cheese, a bottle of champagne, flute glasses), and set up camp in the first row of the bleachers, literally a front-row seat for the festivities.

There might be anywhere from 2-300 paintings, photographs, ceramics, jewelry, or other smaller objets d'art available for bidding on the Silent Auction tables. After they were all sold off, the decks were cleared and the tables replaced by rows of folding chairs for the Live Auction, where another 50-60 pieces of art were presented. Bidding was always spirited from both the floor and the bleachers, enhanced in no small part by the many servers roving up and down the aisles dispensing free bubbly and chocolate. There's nothing like sugar and alcohol (my two favorite food groups) to get the crowd in a party mood!

Hearts was always a festive event, full of balloons and whimsy. Attendees could be as dressy (or not) as they wanted (as you can see by the photo of Art Boy and moi at Hearts, 1993); tuxes, ball gowns, and spats mingled with jeans and Birkinstocks. Artists loved it. Anyone could donate and everybody did; it was the one night a year we could expect to see every other artist in town and hang out together. It was also a great opportunity for art lovers to discover the work of new artists, and for artists and collectors to meet each other. Best of all, proceeds went to CCSCC, which funds Open Studios and the SPECTRA program for teaching art in the schools.

(Barbara and Kent Perry, Dan May, Carrie Jacobsen, d.hooker, Faye Augustine, and Art Boy, Hearts, 1994)

In these belt-tightening times, no one has the wherewithall to stage an art auction on a masive scale like Hearts any more. These days, the principal Spring fundraiser for CCSCC is Primavera, a gala event that combines an auction of select artwork, services, and other goodies with dinner, entertainment, and a theme party up at Chaminade.

But in the meantime, the folks at Artisans Gallery downtown are staging a mini-Hearts for the Arts revival. For one month, now through February 14, pieces of artwork donated by many local artists will be on view in the gallery as part of an ongoing silent auction. Proceeds will go directly to SPECTRA, so drop by now and leave a bid. Then come to the reception for artists and public alike, next First Friday, February 4, 6-8 pm, and see how you're doing.

We all miss the original Hearts like an old friend, but the spirit of supporting the arts lives on at Artisans.

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