By Jessica Carreras
When Carl Demeulenaere got the call to participate in Artworks for Life, he was thinking of friends he lost to AIDS throughout the ’90s.
Like many others donating to help AIDS prevention, Demeulenaere’s loss of friends has made him especially sympathetic to the cause. “I feel closer to what their programming is all about,” says Demeulenaere, the co-chair of Artworks for Life, held on Sept. 23 at The Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn. “They reach a lot of gay teens, and that’s very important to me. They catch people before they make foolish decisions.”
Another motivating force in his life urging him to help was the death of his mother, who passed away from cancer.
“Her legacy of concern for the sick … has been passed on,” he adds. “I don’t have a lot of money, so I think that if I can do anything (to help) and use my talent, then I’ll do it that way.”
Demeulenaere, a local gay artist, has been involved since the event’s conception in 1996. Though he was originally asked to participate as a contributor, he wanted to do more. “My volunteer duties increased out of my own choice,” he explains. “I decided to play a more active role.”
For the first eight years, the event was held at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores. In 2002, it moved to the Masonic Temple of Detroit and eventually to The Ritz-Carlton in 2004. “Back in 1996, a small group of people who founded the event got together. … We called close to 100 people that first year,” says Demeulenaere. “It’s grown in terms of people who want to donate (art).”
Artworks for Life will feature the work of nearly 300 artists this year, all available for auction. “It could be a noun or a verb,” Demeulenaere jokes about the name of the event. “Artworks for life and art works for life.”
Either way, the purpose remains the same: to raise money for AIDS awareness. The first auction will be silent and run from 5 to 8 p.m. This will include the majority of the pieces of art and jewelry. Then, at 8 p.m., auctioneer Jim Miller will auction off the last 30 pieces of art. There will be hors d’oeuvres and desserts catered by The Ritz-Carlton, plus a cappuccino machine and cash bar. Live music will be played throughout the night.
All proceeds from the event will go to support the Midwest AIDS Prevention Program, an education-based program that offers testing, often for free, counseling and information on reducing the risk of contracting HIV.
Last year, Artworks for Life brought in a gross of $85,000 before production costs. According to Andrew Yee, who works at MAPP, the money goes into its general cache to provide funding for programs that don’t receive state aid. “We don’t get funded to (talk at) schools,” Yee explains as an example.
“We are only funded to test certain populations,” he adds. The money from Artworks for Life helps to provide free testing for others outside of those considered high-risk.
“It’s critical, especially these days,” Yee says. “We’ve had our funding cut and cut and cut every year.” Fundraising money, he says, helps alleviate that loss of state funds.
Though the auction’s cause historically has been important for the gay community, the attendance list in the past – including honorary chairpersons Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin – has shown it as an issue that spans different communities. According to Demeulenaere, gay artists comprise only a small portion of those who donate their work, and those who purchase the art. Past attendees of the auction have included Stabenow and FOX 2 News Mornings co-anchor Fanchon Stinger, who will be the honorary host of this year’s event.
Tickets for the event can be purchased by calling Yvonne Greenhouse at 248-545-1435, ext. 104, or by visiting aidsprevention.org.