The Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) has supported artists for 45 years through advocacy, dialogue and collaborating on artist-driven work. The nonprofit organization has been able to fund their projects and programs with donations from community members, and is committed to continue championing artists even in these tough times. In response to the pandemic, WPA’s annual High Frequency Benefit Auction will move online this year.
“We’ve been supporting artists throughout the pandemic in a number of ways – through emergency and research grants, through projects and publication support and, now, by selling their museum-quality artwork in this online auction,” says Peter Nesbett, WPA’s executive director.
The auction is usually held in person, allowing Washingtonians to roam a gallery space for three hours and participate in a silent auction. This year, the auction will run for two weeks online via Artsy – an international platform for online art sales.
“The typical auction is a silent auction in a 20,000 foot space that we build a gallery in. Obviously, we couldn’t do that this year,” Nesbett explains. “The great thing about this is that it brings the artists’ work to a global audience, whereas before we were limited by who could attend locally.”
This year, the auction will have 200 pieces for sale from about 100 artists. In a nod to their anniversary, 45 artists taking part in the auction are representing a year in the organization’s history. These 45 have all worked with WPA during its lifetime, and five of them are MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant winners. In addition to featuring their own work, many of these artists recommended other budding artists whose work they felt deserved recognition. With such a large number of artists being represented, Nesbett says the auction’s “quality and range of work is extraordinary.”
Purchasing art from the auction directly supports artists, and allows WPA to continue producing their numerous art programs now and for the years to come. The WPA splits proceeds from the auction with the featured artists 50/50, a rare move by nonprofit organizations. Nesbett says the fair payment of artists is a core belief of WPA; “We see ourselves as supporting artists, not artists supporting us.”
This dedication to putting artists first is clear in all of WPA’s work. Since the beginning, WPA has put artists in the driver’s seat and collaborated with them to decide the organization’s programming.
“We’re not an artist-run organization, but at the same time we recognize artists as a tremendous asset in D.C. and we want to make sure they stay here and thrive here,” Nesbett explains. “Artists are the lifeblood of D.C. Their well-being is critical to the well-being of our communities.”
Though viewing art online is not the same as at a curated gallery in a physical space, you can curate your own gallery wall for your home and support local artists. Nesbett and the rest of the WPA team are hopeful that the High Frequency Benefit will be a success and that they may continue to support the D.C. artist community for many more years to come.
“Our role is all about valuing artist labor. Support them in this community, keep them here and show them that they matter,” Nesbett concludes. “People who purchase art from the benefit auction are supporting not only the artists but WPA’s ongoing commitment to social justice in the arts.”
If you are interested in supporting WPA and local artists, check out the works up for auction at www.artsy.net when bidding opens on July 30 at 6:30 p.m. The auction ends August 13 at 6:30 p.m. Learn more about WPA at www.wpadc.org, or follow them on all social media @wpadc.
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