Both art-lovers and charitable contributors can unite at Mechanic’s Hall Friday, May 13 for “Art in the City,” a fundraiser to benefit the Family Health Center of Worcester, to appreciate and buy original works of art while giving back to the community.
Frances Anthes, the president and CEO of Family Health Center of Worcester, knows firsthand how the center helps the community.
“I actually started out as a patient of the health center,” she said, which provides medical, dental and mental health care to more than 33,000 low-income patients from around Central Mass. Anthes became employed at the center and eventually rose to CEO, a position she has held for 19 years.
Art in the City started 18 years ago, Anthes said, mainly for two reasons: to liven up the center and help raise money to help their patients.
“First was we had a brand-new health center with lots of empty walls,” she said. “We commissioned an artist who lived in the neighborhood to go out and put pictures he took of flowers in the neighborhood on our walls. That was where we started as a fundraising part of that. We asked local artists to contribute there art, and with the auction, we raise funds and it goes toward purchasing art. We want the health center to be a place [patients] feel good about coming to, where they can see reflected on the walls the kind of healthy community [that] includes a focus on the art and on the person in the context of their community.”
The event has blossomed since taking place in the lobby of the health center with under 100 attendees and about 25 pieces of artwork for sale. Now three times the size, Anthes estimates about 300-400 people attend the annual event, as well as 75 pieces of artwork sold in a variety of mediums.
“We have people who do watercolor, acrylics, jewelry and sculpture, and [we] reach out to people with a variety of different strengths in different mediums,” Anthes said. “We allow artists to pick what they feel is appropriate [to donate]. Often, they pick something related to the theme of health, or we might have something that reflects our neighborhood.”
When she chooses what to donate, artist Bayda Asbridge said, “I look at what I have and what I did this year, what was my passion. I submit something suitable, not something very large and can be expensive, but not something very little with little monetary value. Somewhere between $100-300.”
Asbridge has an extensive resume of experience with different art forms – from Chinese brush painting to print making to sculpting – and likes to use her art to help others. As an immigrant from Syria, she works with refugees traumatized by war as an interpreter at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and knows how much they need help.
“I see the level of distraught they go through,” she said. “I know they’re living from one day to the next. They’re alienated, they don’t speak the language … these people will bring people to buy art [and] help. I appreciate the Family Health Center [for thinking] of it. For artists, it’s great because it brings our name out.”
Another contributing artist, bead weaver Robin Foley, is also the chair for the event, along with her husband, Jack.
“Our daughter has an intellectual disability and started volunteering [at the center] in high school,” Foley said. “We don’t go there for medical treatments so we wouldn’t know about it other than Lindsay volunteers there. Now it’s like part of our extended family. She does all kinds of supportive job tasks, but everyone knows her. It’s a community. It’s this amazing, well-run community.”
For the event, Foley makes sea glass beaded jewelry, which can take several months because of her full-time job.
“I’m a bead weaving artist which means I use needle and thread, [and] all of my art has a piece of sea glass,” she said. “We have a beach house so the kids and I started collecting sea glass a while ago. I wanted to do something with it so I taught myself.
“Very talented artists step up and donate their work,” she said. “There’s no reason to do it other than they care about the organization. There’s an art committee that judges the art; there’s a level, a stamp of quality. I think there are hidden surprises –artists who could sell their work in other places that donate their art to Art in the City.”
Sculptor Michael Alfano is another artist contributing to the event, for which he has donated work since 2013. He got his start in sculpting after a soul-searching trip to Utah, where he decided he was going to be a sculptor – despite the fact that he had no experience in art and was working in the financial district in New York City.
“It was something that really just connected with me,” he said, and despite his inexperience, his career took off. He made headlines across the nation when his sculpture, “Stand Up and Speak Out,” depicting a drunk-driving accident scene, was removed from outside of a Mineola, New York courthouse in the late ‘90s after a defense attorney sued.
“I think art is an important medium of social change,” Alfano said. “It’s a way to speak.” And one way Alfano creates art for change is donating his work to help the center.
“They really do some really wonderful work in the community to help support people in need and support the medical needs they have,” said Alfano. “It’s an important way to help the people who are in need in so many of the different aspects that they do, whether it’s a busing program or medical stuff.”
If art isn’t your thing, Anthes noted that there are other ways to help the center at the event, including their “fund in need” packages.
“We will offer an opportunity to bid on a dental visit for a patient who can’t afford it or a mammogram for someone who doesn’t have insurance or a bus pass for someone to get to their appointment,” she said.
As an auctioneer announces the opportunity to buy these, participants can lift their paddles to buy one, or even several if they choose.
“It’s a wonderful evening of refreshments and art and time with other folks in the community,” said Foley. “You’ll find hidden treasures you didn’t even know you wanted or needed, but also it’s a way to give back. Its way to take an evening to come and explore and learn about center in case you’ve never heard about it or visited, to see the folks who make it happen every year and hear the mission of a wonderful organization that truly benefits from the proceeds that come from this event. There [are] a lot of fundraisers – this one is an easy one to attend, it’s affordable and I think it’s surprising.”
“Art in the City” takes place from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased individually for $40 or as part of a sponsorship package. For more information, visit ArtintheCity.org.