More than a year ago, my coworker told me about a fundraiser she’d been to that weekend. She was pregnant at the time, and was excitedly telling me about the piece of art that they’d acquired for their little boy’s nursery. It sounded interesting, but I think I was concerned with other things and not paying too much attention. This year in early January, she mentioned it again – saying this time that she knew the guy who made the app that went with the fundraiser and they were able to get early tickets all together – would the Boy and I want to join them? We hemmed and hawed. And we didn’t decide to go until after the pre-tickets had already been sold, and so ended up buying seats in the same section during the regular ticket sale. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is this mystery event? It’s called the Patrons Show, and it’s run by the Art League of Alexandria. It’s a fundraiser for the non-profit organization (which supports local artists and art in schools and low-income areas), and for each ticket drawn, the ticket-holder gets to choose a piece of art to take home. The pieces have all been donated by local artists, and are worth anywhere from $200 and up, depending on the size.
This is how it works – the art is all made available for viewing in the Art League gallery at the Torpedo factory as it comes in. It’s also available on the flickr stream, or on the app that was developed specifically for the fundraiser. Participants can rank their favorites, or use the app to assign a rating – 1-5 stars, along with comparison ranking in a “hot-or-not” type function. During the show the app will tell you your top available piece, and you can mark off those that are selected as you go along. The app was pretty great overall, but it was interesting to talk to the developer while we were there about different choices he made when developing it – why abandon the head to head rankings if you leave the “hot-or-not” comparison feature? Do you find yourself choosing the top or left artwork more than the right or bottom piece? Did we know we could go into the “at the show” portion and re-rank on the fly? Or how to see a larger list of what pieces had been taken? Or how to “undo” marking a piece as taken?
We gathered a bottle of mead to share (because people bring lots of snacks and beverages – the event can last up to six hours!), a couple glasses, and I tried not to freak out too much as traffic down in Old Town was horrendous. It turned out that the day of the show was beautiful weather, and Old Town Alexandria can draw large crowds when it’s sunny out. We did eventually find a place to park the car, and made our way to the Torpedo Factory.
It was not anything like what I expected. Grids for seating were spray-painted on the ground of the various seating areas. People stood milling about. And then when we made our way into the gallery to see the art in person for the first time, it was sort of shocking. Some pieces were much larger than I would have expected. Others were smaller. Some had benefited from the low-detail level of the app and were not as appealing in person, others had a sudden unexpectedly lovely quality that digital photography had not been able to convey.
As the event start time drew near, we all went to our seats and got excited as the host began to talk. We all made sure that we could hear the host (which was easy for our group, as we were seated in one of the closest areas). We practiced how the evening would go – a name would be called. The person whose name was called would yell out the number corresponding to the piece they wanted. If this number had already been taken, they would be booed. If they took too long in deciding, they would be cat-called.
And then it began. It was VERY stressful. It happened so fast. The first round of name/ticket calling lasted for more than 250 names. For a while, the pieces we wanted remained. And then slowly they were claimed. Ones I’d liked but weren’t at the very top were picked. Partway through the first round, my coworker was called, and she made her choice. She told us a few moments later that it hadn’t actually been her top choice piece at the time – she had simply chosen it on a whim, and now her husband was frustrated since he didn’t like that one as much as other pieces. Whoops. The thrill of the moment, I suppose.
My name wasn’t called in the first round, and even before that first round ended, I began to stress and imagine that I would be picked last, or that somehow my name didn’t make it into the system at all. I texted my coworker – “I’m stressed out about getting one that I like”, and she responded “There are still lots of good ones left”. My response, “There are, but I’m a professional worrier.” The boy teased me, and then I looked at our rankings, and realized that there were still a few five-star pieces, and many, many four-star pieces left to get. They were pieces I would still enjoy having in our home, they just weren’t the magical large wall pieces I’d set my sights on.
There was a break at the first round where those whose names had been called went in and retrieved their art and redeemed their ticket, the rest of us could examine the pieces that were left, and everyone could get a drink, or some food, and decompress a little. Midway through the second round, around the time that the Boy and I both began to feel antsy, someone handed back a box of ham sandwiches, which we both took – hungry, and desperate for something to do. The Boy joked that as soon as we had a mouthful someone would call my name.
And that’s exactly what happened. My name was finally called in the low 400s, and our mouths were full of sandwich. I was shocked. I showed my phone with the app on it to the Boy, and he called out our number after swallowing a mouthful. And that was it. We had our piece.
Now, if I’m being honest, I would have liked something bigger – either for above our bed, above the guest room bed, for the living rooms…but that’s not what we got. We got a beautiful watercolor/pastel piece titled Rains Coming. We’ve found a spot that would probably be good for it, and now just need to go in and hang it!
After the show, I texted information to my sister and mom. They oohed over the painting, and then asked if we would go back again next year. The answer is a resounding YES. The event will be having it’s 50th anniversary, and there are still spots in the house that require art. It was a thrilling evening, despite how stressed out I got, and I think knowing that we enjoyed it and would be interested in attending again means we will be able to sit with the group, and we know now to bring more snacks, and a fully charged battery pack for my phone. If you are interested in attending the event yourself now, keep an eye out on the Art League website early next January so that you too can get tickets when they go on sale.