The annual Possible Dreams Auction, the Island’s signature summer charity event that has sustained Martha’s Vineyard Community Services for more than three decades, is heading back to the seaside and will take place this year in Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, allowing the event to expand its capacity as the economy hammers philanthropy across the country.
Auction organizers will announce the venue change today.
Held on the first Monday in August, the Dreams auction, where one-of-a-kind experiences often involving celebrities or high-profile executives with Vineyard connections are sold off to the highest bidder, has raised nearly $8 million over the past 31 years.
But after a record year in 2006, when longtime auctioneer, the late Art Buchwald, coaxed more than $800,000 out of patrons in a single night in his final appearance at the podium, the auction faltered two years ago.
Besides the absence of Mr. Buchwald, the auction on the lawns of the Harborside Inn in Edgartown suffered a rain delay. Organizers discovered that many celebrities and deep-pocketed donors who schedule a long weekend to stay on Island for the auction cannot stretch their time off for an extra day; the Tuesday auction that year netted almost 50 per cent less than the year before, putting a big strain on Community Services, the nonprofit umbrella social services agency that provides counseling programs, early childhood help, domestic violence assistance and other human services to year-round Islanders.
“It was a huge impact,” said auction co-chairman DiAnn Ray. “In this century, people’s schedules don’t have the flexibility they once had. We found out in the worst way,” she added.
It was not possible to put up a tent on the grounds of the Harborside, and its manager Joe Badot supported the difficult decision to move the event last year to tented grounds around Outerland, the nightclub near the airport.
“Outerland was wonderful to us,” said Mrs. Ray of last year’s experience, where donations stayed about the same as the year before. But Outerland was shuttered last fall and is on the market. “We were too nervous about what would be there,” she said.
One proposal, now abandoned, was to turn the club into a deli and seasonal package store; a new plan to reopen the space as a nightclub again is pending town approval.
Ocean Park is a perfect match, Mrs. Ray said in an interview at the park on Wednesday morning, a sparkling May day with people out walking their dogs on the lush green grass. Across Nantucket Sound, an early-season sailboat bobbed on the horizon. “Aside from the beauty of the place, it has such a special place in the history of the Vineyard, it’s a public place, on a public bus route and a hop from the Oak Bluffs ferry,” Mrs. Ray said, noting that visitors could come directly from the boat to the early-evening auction, where admission is $25. There also will be a dinner afterwards for $300 per person.
Two tents will give the auction a capacity of about 2,000 guests in Ocean Park, while only using about a quarter of the public space available at the park. The Harborside could accommodate about 1,500 people. Organizers are working on a plan for off-site parking, likely to be at nearby Waban Park.
“I think it’s magnificent,” said Oak Bluffs parks commission chairman Nancy Phillips, “that this signature event will take place in this signature park, and it ties in with our renovations.”
As she spoke, men were prying shingles from the bandstand that stands photogenically in the park’s center. Ms. Phillips expects the bandstand work to be completed by late June.
She said Ocean Park’s previous drainage concerns, with water pooling in the summer months, were under control now. Nevertheless, the auction will be set up at the high side of the park, where the watershed drains as the park slopes toward the police station.
The proposal did not have to go to town selectmen, Ms. Phillips said, because the park commission has jurisdiction.
“We have been evaluating how other seaside destinations handle events without imposing on the townspeople,” she said as a couple of dogs pulled their walker along the park path.
Park commissioners did not hesitate on the proposal to have the Possible Dreams Auction in Ocean Park.
“We think seriously about what we want to put on here,” Ms. Phillips said, “and it’s Della Hardman Day, this, and the fireworks.”
Volunteers are working to put together an Oak Bluffs experience “dream” which would include one of the homeowners on Ocean Park hosting the winners for the annual fireworks. Already, a Camp Ground homeowner has offered to be part of the dream by hosting four people for Illumination Night, when the cottages around the Tabernacle twinkle with lanterns turned on simultaneously.
“The auction seems to be reinvigorated with the move, moving beyond the Art Buchwald era into this beautiful space,” Mrs. Ray said. There is a new logo, which features the familiar dream cloud but with a sailboat — coincidentally, as it was designed before the move to Ocean Park was discussed.
“This move feels right to me,” cochairman Jim Shane said in a statement. “It’s a crucial year. Times are tough, the needs of our Island neighbors are growing, and people count on community services to be here. When the Island community and visitors gather in Ocean Park for this year’s auction, not only will they have a wonderful experience, but they will be helping raise critical funds to support Community Services.”