Philly art auction to benefit organizations that may lose funding under Trump

Organizers of Collective Action (from left) Grace Ahn

Organizers of Collective Action (from left) Grace Ahn

With the inauguration of Donald Trump a week away, some social service organizations in Philadelphia are beginning to worry about their future, particularly those involved with health care and immigration.

An art auction is offering an alternative source of funding.

One hundred and fifty artists have donated work to the Collective Action auction, to take place Saturday night at 990 Spring Garden. It’s expected to raise about $20,000, all of it to be donated to 10 organizations — including national groups Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and local organizations Juntos, which supports undocumented immigrants, and the Mazzoni Center, which offers health care to the LGBTQ community.

Auction organizers — an informal group of friends unassociated with political action groups — began coordinating immediately after the presidential election. They did not want to wait until Trump was in office to see how he would behave.

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“There was a sense of urgency to not normalize this rhetoric and behavior,” said Grace Ahn, an artist living in the Point Breeze neighborhood. “Rather than sulk, it was to react and do something.”

wojtanowskiGrace Ahn unwraps a work by Tamsen Wojtanowski. More than 150 artists made donations to Collective Action for an auction that will benefit groups likely to suffer under the Trump presidency. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

What started as a modest event with a few artists auctioning work in a local bar to raise a couple thousand dollars escalated tenfold once the announcement went out on social media. It was publicized by Conrad Benner of the graffiti blog, who said the approaching inauguration has renewed people’s political awareness.

“We feel — and we’re already getting that sense this week — that people are going to be really impassioned again, and going to want to do something,” said Benner. “We want to do something. Let’s use what we have to make an effort.”

The gift to each beneficiary, expected to be about $2,000, is not to be sneezed at, but neither will it make up for lost federal funding. A large part of the impulse is to raise awareness and build community.

Most of the art to be auctioned is not political in nature, and many of the artists donating are not strongly political. The benefiting organizations have no involvement in the event.

The auction, by design and scheduling, is pro-active. What exactly will happen next week when Trump enters the White House is unknown. None of the organizations receiving auction proceeds have been directly threatened by the new administration — with the exception Planned Parenthood, as some in the Republican-controlled Congress have called for its immediate defunding.

But Nurit Shein, the CEO of the Mazzoni Center, said the expected repeal of the Affordable Care Act will, in fact, have a direct impact on her organization. She saw a dramatic decline in uninsured LGBTQ patients since Obamacare went into law.

“We used to give close to million dollars of free care, that declined to under half million of free care to the uninsured,” said Shein. “Now it will probably go up again.”

Shein said she is seeking alternate resources because she expects health care funding will become scarce over the next four years.

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