Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Boise Weekly Cover Auction nets record proceeds


"Let's start this bid at $50."

That's how the excitement of last Wednesday's Boise Weekly Cover Art Auction began. And from that point on, professional auctioneer Johnna Wells spent the better part of three hours auctioning off the art that graced the covers of 51 issues of Boise Weekly between October 2008 and October 2009. And she helped us break a few records.

This was our eighth annual Cover Art Auction, which serves to publicly showcase and bring attention to the work of local artists--well-known and undiscovered, professional and amateur--to provide a place for hundreds of art appreciators and collectors to see new works and to raise money that goes directly into our art community.

Recognizing that visual art is but one medium Boiseans excel at, we invited performance artists to join us as well. The youngsters of Boise Rock School played us in, slam poetry mavens from Big Tree Arts provided an exceptionally witty introduction, and dancers from Trey McIntyre Project acted as our own Carol Merrills (the display queen of The Price is Right) and walked--or danced as was often the case--each piece through the crowd as it was being auctioned off. Our friends at Smoky Mountain Pizza and Pasta and Sockeye Brewery generously donated their culinary skills in the shape of fine food and drink while Idaho State Historical Museum hosted us for the third year in a row.

With financial worries being what they are, we here at Boise Weekly were a little uncertain how the evening would unfold. We knew that the artwork would sell, what we were unsure of was how well. Contrary to some of our own expectations, we broke three records: We had the highest auction attendance ever at 350 people, a record number of registered bidders at 94, and gross proceeds reached more than $14,000 with an average of $278 per piece--prices ranged from $60 to $1,200 for the painting of President Obama titled Enjoy The Moment by the artist P.R. For comparison, in 2002, we raised a little more than $3,000.

One especially interesting change was from those of us who live with the work before it goes off to auction. Each piece used on a cover is framed by Blue Dog Framing Gallery and hung at BWHQ. We staffers live with and come to love the work. At auction, we bid ferociously and, in the past anyway, a big portion of our own paychecks are earmarked for pieces we've won. As a group, in 2007, we spent $3,520. In 2008, we spent $1,160. But this year, we kept our wallets shut and let the other attendees do all the bidding.

In the past, the proceeds from the auction went to one arts organization. But three years ago, BW owner and publisher Sally Freeman decided to enrich a broader art community. In 2006, proceeds were used to commission a public art sculpture by local artist Michael Cordell (it stands outside the BW offices). Then in 2007, Freeman created the Cover Art Grants, which are open to any local individual artist or arts organization.

Last year, we raised a net sum of $10,087, which was awarded to The Cabin, Thee Art Of, BOSCO, The Mend Project and the Basque Project. This year, once we account for hard costs (framing supplies, administrative fees), we'll have about $12,000 available for the grants.

BW Cover Art Grant Recipients from Boise Weekly on Vimeo.

We will also have another first.

For the past several years, we regularly featured the intricate black, white and gray work of local artist PJ Dean. Earlier this year, Dean passed away at the age of 36 due to complications from diabetes. To honor Dean's contribution to both BW and the arts community, we will offer the inaugural PJ Dean Grant this year.

We'll be accepting Cover Art Grant submissions soon, and the deadline to apply will be early February 2010. We'll keep you updated, but for the time being, if you're interested in submitting an application, start thinking about answers to the following questions:

1. How does your organization support local visual artists?

2. Will this grant fund a new or existing project?

3. What's the budget?

4. How will the grant be used?

5. What's the location/accessibility?

6. How will it benefit the community and support the Cover Art Auction mission?

Thank you to everyone who participated this year, and thanks in advance to those of you who didn't make it this year but don't want to be left out next time. We'll save a seat and a bidding number for you.

Ed. Note: Carol Merrill was actually the queen of Let's Make a Deal. Duh.