The Island community raised more than $450,000 for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services at the Art Buchwald Possible Dreams Auction Sunday night, an amount expected to increase still by the end of the week. The total surpasses last year’s amount by at least $50,000.
“The event was such a success and the agency is really thrilled,” said Nell Coogan, director of development and community relations. The 35th annual auction, which took place in a tent on the grounds of the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Katama, is a feat of generosity and cooperation among Island residents, visitors, local companies and nonprofit partners who donate their time, money, products and services to help bolster social services, filling gaps left by recent reductions in public funding.
Throughout the evening, the seats filled up with more than 500 Islanders and visitors looking for a good time and an opportunity to give. The live auction, the event’s centerpiece, raised about $213,000. The balance came from a silent auction, ticket fees and various donations.
This year Cambridge native comedian Jimmy Tingle took the gavel to officiate an event long associated with humorist Art Buchwald, who served as Possible Dreams auctioneer for more than 25 years.
Mr. Tingle conducted the auction with great enthusiasm, making humor out of blunders, laughing at himself when the audience corrected his bid increments and pronunciation, and praising bidders using biblical allusions. But he always brought it home to the beneficiaries of the evening’s generosity.
“We are raising a lot of money for people who really need it,” Mr. Tingle reminded the audience. “I don’t want that to get away from us.” The organization has served the needs of the Island’s most vulnerable since 1961.
To encourage generosity, Mr. Tingle read a humorous list of 10 reasons why the auction had to meet its fund-raising goals.
He threatened the audience with a Walmart, which Edgartown would be forced to accept to increase the towns’ tax base. The children would have to work as greeters at the superstore, instead of benefitting from Community Services, he joked. Worse, Martha’s Vineyard would have to borrow money from Nantucket, he said, inspiring genuine groans from the audience.
The auction usually accounts for 10 per cent of Community Services’ budget. “State and local funding shrinks every year to programs,” especially for outpatient care, said Community Services executive director Juliette Fay. “[The auction] gives an opportunity for the Island to come together to support folks,” she added.
The Head Start preschool program lost $20,000 of federal funding this past year, causing the organization to scale back its enrollment capabilities and the duration of the programming. “The government asks us to do all the services we’ve done with less money than we’d received in the past,” Ms. Milne said. In the future, community services hopes to expand programming for the elderly, a growing segment of the Island population. The nonprofit also plans to provide more support to the Island’s struggling youth. “More and more we are seeing adolescents and kids in crisis, so our service offerings there need to expand to support them,” she said. Substance abuse also continues to be a major issue on the Vineyard, she said.
“I love that it’s on the Island, for the Island,” said Elizabeth Gormley, a summer Edgartown resident. “The cause is fantastic, and I just love the longstanding roots of the Art Buchwald tradition.”
Mr. Buchwald died in 2007. This year’s event was named after him.
Mr. Tingle paid tribute to him in his introduction, reading one of the last columns of Mr. Buchwald’s in which he refers to himself as “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die,” who left hospice to spend time in Martha’s Vineyard instead of Heaven.
In the presentation of their dream, a remix of Mr. Buchwald’s Art of the Interview, Robin Young and Tom Ashbrook of WBUR radio in Boston spoke of his spirit and journalistic legacy. “We have both had the privilege of working with Art Buchwald,” Ms. Young said. “We have learned so much from him.”
WBUR bought the 92.7 signal last January, and has been looking for ways to introduce their radio personalities to Island listeners. The dream donated by WBUR offered the bidder a plane ride to Boston to record a family interview with Robin Young and sit in as guest producer of the day on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point radio program. “I will try to take what I’ve learned from art Buchwald, and I will interview you,” she said.
Dreams garnered bids in the thousands, single item bids peaking at $20,000 for an Italian villa trip. Ms. Gormley, who sat with a group of friends from her neighborhood who like to bid against each other, had her eyes on that trip, along with a few other dreams.
“I think people have donated some wonderful items,” she said. But the item she coveted most was a spot on Island personality Clarence (Trip) Barnes’s tour of Martha’s Vineyard destinations off the beaten track. “I really love that idea,” she said.
The donors of three other dreams pledged to duplicate their offerings if two separate parties bid $10,000 each. As a result, Allen Whiting will create two custom-made paintings, Henry Louis (Skip) Gates Jr. will help two separate parties trace back their ancestry, and Jack Davies will host bidders twice in the Capitals Hockey owner’s box.
Throughout the night, a forgotten piece of traffic machinery stood unassuming, blinking a rhythmic red. In a surprising twist on a year-old controversy, Mr. Barnes took the stage to sell off the Island’s lost beacon of light, “the blinker.” The only traffic light on the Island, it was formerly located at the four-way stop in Oak Bluffs where a roundabout has since been installed.
Last year, Mr. Barnes made a film protesting the roundabout in which he drove a tractor trailer around the area to illustrate that it was too small.
“The town of Oak Bluffs wanted to crucify me on this,” he said, gesturing toward the blinker which he had fought to keep in place. “And I have to say, in front of all of you, I was wrong.”
As he turned to auction it off, he became sentimental. “After a long life . . . here I am trying to sell my old friend,” he said.
The blinker towered above him. “I bet you no one in the room has one of these,” Mr. Barnes said.
“It will look great in your bedroom,” Mr. Tingle echoed. “You could turn the light on or off for any reason.”
The last light sold for $8,600.