.Art For Ukraine: Sausalito Art Festival fundraiser

We live in interesting times. War is in the news, and it’s cause for concern. Twelve weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cities lie in ruins, civilian deaths continue to mount and both sides are digging in for a prolonged ground conflict.

What can we do here, halfway around the world, to show support for the people of Ukraine during this time of suffering? One way is to attend the upcoming Sausalito Art Festival Foundation’s Art For Ukraine Benefit Art Sale.

In an effort to learn more about the event and the Sausalito Art Festival Foundation itself, I contacted Sausalito local Louis Briones. Briones sits on the board of the decades-old nonprofit foundation, serving as both chairperson and executive director for the cultural and fine arts organization whose mission is to “encourage, promote and support community arts.”

“The May 21–22 event, Art For Ukraine, is not an art festival,” Briones tells me via email. “It is a benefit art sale to raise money to support the victims of war in Ukraine. The idea was hatched at a board meeting a few months ago when the group was talking off the agenda about the horrific events being forced on the citizens of Ukraine.

“From there, the idea of a benefit art sale was sprung into action, and we reached out to our artists and asked them to donate art to the event. The response was very positive, and we now have over 60 artists participating in the event—including some from Marin Open Studios and the ICB [Industrial Center Building]. Proceeds from the sale will go to UNICEF, the Red Cross and World Central Kitchen.”

He adds, “Because we don’t have a park in which to hold the event, we are collaborating with the newly formed Sausalito Center For The Arts (SCA) in downtown Sausalito. Their facility, the former Bank of America building, is being transformed into an art gallery, with one or two pieces of art from each artist being displayed for sale. Their executive director, Monica Finnegan, has embraced the event and is working closely with us to make it a success.”

I inquire with Briones as to whether there will be a festival this year, in addition to the benefit art sale.

“Like all live events, Covid shut us down in 2020, and legally we were not allowed to hold the festival because all big events were disallowed,” he tells me. “The board took the time to reimagine the festival, because it had grown too big and expensive to produce and we needed to make changes to the model. We were in the process of holding the 2021 festival with a changed format and had opened the artist application process, when a homeless encampment moved into Marinship Park, where we hold the festival. It became apparent that the encampment was there to stay, and we were forced to cancel the 2021 event. We did manage to hold an online auction to support our artists, but the live festival was not possible.”

“Since 2021, we have been working with the Sausalito city manager, Chris Zapata, and his staff, along with members of the Sausalito City Council, to find a new location,” he continues. “We explored multiple sites within Sausalito, but realistically there is no place other than Marinship Park to hold an event that resembles the previous festivals. Consequently, we reduced the size of the festival plan but kept the core components of quality art, music, food/beverage and downsized it considerably. Instead of 220 artists, the plan [now] calls for 50; instead of two music stages, one small stage, etc.

“In spite of the reduced festival plan, we still have not been able to secure a location because of various impediments that come with each possible location in Sausalito, but we continue to try to overcome the obstacles.”

Briones’ own involvement with the festival and SAFF stretches back many years.

“Like most [Sausalito] residents, I attended the festival every year and was impressed by the art and entertained by the music,” he tells me. “In 2014, I was asked by Jerry Spolter, a trustee, if I had interest in joining the group; I have an advertising and marketing background, and they were looking for that skill set. I grew up in Santa Fe and was surrounded by art from an early age and started collecting in my 30s, so I’ve always had a passion for it. In fact, Jerry and I were in Santa Fe when we first started talking about the SAFF board.”

In addition to the festival and benefit art sale, SAFF has for years funded programs to support art and community in Sausalito. These include the Leonard Kaprielian Grant, which was awarded to the Sausalito Historical Society in 2021, and scholarships, which are awarded annually to local college-age students who exhibit special talent. In addition, SAFF developed Artists Teaching Art, an arts education program which serves K–12 students in local public and private schools. According to the SAFF website, “In the past five years, the Sausalito Art Festival Foundation has donated $500,000 to the Artists Teaching Art program.”

I ask Briones how he feels about art and community at this critical moment in time, when war threatens from afar and a myriad of changes—environmental, economic and pandemic—threaten our well-being here on the Left Coast.

“My feelings on art and community have never been stronger,” Briones says. “Through my association with SAFF and SCA, I have an opportunity to interact with art and artists all the time, and I know that the past two years has been tough for them. There are many good things happening in the online art world, but the majority of art is sold face-to-face, and that channel has been off-limits due to the pandemic. Things are opening up now, but the artists were hit hard and more than ever need our support.”

“It’s easy to think of art as a luxury, but war often reveals its true power,” he adds. “Whether it’s people in bomb shelters seeking comfort though familiar music and dance, children in unimaginable circumstances being calmed through arts and crafts, or even what we are trying to do: use the power of art to raise funds for people in need.”

The Ukraine Benefit Art Sale will take place Sat–Sun, May 21–22, from 10am to 5pm, at the Sausalito Center for the Arts, located in downtown Sausalito at 750 Bridgeway.

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