In October of 2019, Howard’s Art & Frames of Hagerstown, MD, wrapped up their 14th Art for the Animals fundraiser, an art exhibit and silent auction where all proceeds go to a local organization that helps animals. Participants donate artwork and pay a small fee to participate. Howard’s frames all the artwork in their frame shop and hosts two events associated with the show: the initial opening and the “Tail-End” reception, where people have one last chance to bid on their favorite piece of artwork. Once the auction is closed, staff hand out “Popular Choice” prizes to artists’ whose work was in high demand and visitors get to take their new artwork home. This year the event raised a total of $3,600 for a local animal shelter, For Otis Sake Rescue, Inc. Not only does this event have us inspired for Love Your Pet Day, which is coming up next month, we wanted to know more about Howard’s long-standing success with the event.
We connected with store manager Sarah Kersting to learn more about how Art for the Animals has changed over time and how exactly an art exhibit for charity is good for business.
A Community Tradition
It feels like Howard’s has always done Art For Animals, Sarah says, though the charities have changed over the years. Originally they donated to the Humane Society, and then at one point the former owners were raising service dogs for the blind, so they donated to a seeing eye dog charity. They’ve donated to For Otis Sake Rescue for two years now.
With an annual event going strong for over a decade, getting the word out isn’t hard. Most people know about the show via word of mouth and there are a lot of repeat artists who always participate. Howard’s also sends a newsletter out, posts on social media and puts an ad in the local newspaper (which typically runs a feature on the store after the event wraps up). While the show is a given, the “gallery” is not: any other time of the year, it reverts back to a classroom space where they host classes and workshops. Like Pygmalion’s, Howard’s pours energy into one focused and consistent show, creating an annual tradition that their community looks forward to and supports every year.
It’s How You Frame It
The show is also an opportunity for the framers at Howard’s to flex their design skills and show off what their mouldings can do! This year they cut and joined the frames for over a hundred pieces for the show. All of the submitted artwork is 5” x 7”, on canvas or illustration board. This makes it much easier to frame the work. “It is a size that we can usually cut down from scraps of our mouldings,” Sarah says. Utilizing scraps makes donating the frames a perk that positively impacts artists, customers and the non-profit that receives the proceeds, at little cost to Howard’s inventory.
A frame can really elevate a piece, especially if the piece is small. Since each piece is destined for the silent auction, it makes the work more attractive to the viewers, who will likely want to hang the work in their home straightaway, or gift it ready to go. The standard size of the artwork and unified style of fitting also makes for an easier, more streamlined installation process. Maybe the texture alludes to the content, or the style evokes a specific time alluded to in the work of art. Each pairing is done thoughtfully, and serves as a visual reminder to visitors: the frame shop at Howard’s is alive and well!
“The show gives people an idea that they don’t have to go with a plain black frame,” Sarah points out. Customers often remark on how cool the frame looks with the art; they may have something they want to frame at home.
Creating Conversation, Supporting The Arts
Sarah took an interest in Art for the Animals, and the silent auction in particular, when she first started at Howard’s in 2007. She started a Facebook page and Instagram account for the store and used those platforms to promote the event. “The silent auction kind of runs itself,” she says. Visitors write down their name and number on little cards next to each piece of art, along with how much they want to bid. In order to secure the piece you want, you really need to come to the Tail-End reception. Community members know that’s the reception to go to, because if you bid on something and you’re not there, there is a possibility that you won’t get it! “Everyone who really wants their peice fights until the end,” Sarah says.
If there is a close finish, sometimes people will compromise. Ironically, the silent auction generates conversations and can even result in some friendly competition between people with similar aesthetics! “My parents were bidding on one last year that they really wanted,” Sarah says. The artist was also wanting it back, she wanted to put it in a show. It got up to $100, and they agreed that she would win the bid, put it in the show and then they could buy it from her.” Everyone wins.
Evolving For The Better
This year they saw a smaller pool of submissions (down from 300), but this was not disappointing—in fact it was intentional. In the past, the entry fee was just a dollar. This year they raised the entry fee to $5, and bumped up the minimum bid from $1 to $5 as well. Increasing the price made for a more doable show. “It made everybody’s time more valuable,” Sarah points out. Rather than a minimum investment of $2, now it costs as much as $10 to participate. “We wanted people to put in a little bit more effort,” Sarah explained. Scaling down ensured that the framing and installation process could go a bit smoother and take less time.
The Benefit of a Benefit
In addition to showcasing what the frame shop carries and the unique design aesthetics of the staff, the show consistently brings people into the store. “It shows that we support the community,” Sarah says. “We’re not just a box store. It’s a community thing.”
Do you host an annual event you’d like to share? Does your store hold benefits in partnership with local non-profits? We want to hear about it! Reach out at artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com.