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To close a funding gap, the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation mounts an online auction

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Like many nonprofits, the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation (PRYAF) works tirelessly to fund its programs that serve nearly 400 5- to 18-year-old students. The foundation receives no government funding and relies entirely on donations, community gifts, and private or public funding.

Due to the pandemic, the organization's doors have shuttered, and it finds itself with a $46,000 budget shortfall that normally would have been met through fundraising events. Starting Friday, July 24, at 7 a.m., PRYAF will hold an online auction that will run through Sunday, Aug. 2, at 8 p.m. You can bid for original art at pryaf.givesmart.com.

'THE PINES' This original painting by SLO County artist Lena Rushing is one of many works available during the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation's fundraising online auction held July 24 through Aug. 2. - IMAGE COURTESY OF LENA RUSHING
  • Image Courtesy Of Lena Rushing
  • 'THE PINES' This original painting by SLO County artist Lena Rushing is one of many works available during the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation's fundraising online auction held July 24 through Aug. 2.

New Times conducted an email interview with PRYAF Development Director Emily Jagger, who explained that "PRYAF has always been supported by the generosity of the community. Fundraisers such as our signature Dining with the Arts Gala, plays, musicals, and other live performances are how we connect best with donors. Guests can't help but feel the magic when they walk through the Center doors. The walls literally hum with excitement, and they know the students had a hand in everything they see—from the decor to lighting, sound, costumes, music, choreography to the art they see on the walls. It's all part of the experience."

Of course, in-person fundraising might be on hold for a while, but PRYAF is still working to meet the needs of its students.

"We do a lot of fundraising to ensure we can continue to offer our classes at no charge to families," Jagger continued. "Our auctions are a big part of our annual budget. Along with our own events canceled, there are other local events of which PRYAF is the beneficiary, such as the Paso Pinot & Paella Festival that has directly funded PRYAF for 14 years. We partner with a variety of restaurants, shops, and wineries for smaller pop-up fundraisers. All of which have been canceled, leaving PRYAF at a growing loss."

Jagger hopes the online auction will help PRYAF continue to serve the greater Paso Robles area.

"The idea for an online art auction came about because the art community is where the idea for PRYAF started," she explained. "In 1998, artist and philanthropist Donna Berg founded the organization alongside local leaders and artist colleagues. It was no surprise that some of those same artists were the first to reach out and express their interest in helping the organization stay open during the crisis. More so, they wanted the students to continue to benefit from the mentorships through all that we teach at PRYAF, whether it be virtual or live format. They know our working artist instructors have what it takes to make those important connections with our most vulnerable youth."

Many of the county's best-known professional artists are participating in the auction. Lena Rushing, Peg Grady, Neal Breton, Heidi Peterson, Debra Jurey, Harvey Cohon, Janice Pluma, and many others have work up for bid. Did the artists donate them outright or will they share in the proceeds?

'YOSEMITE SUNSET' This color print by SLO County photographer Bob Canepa is another item available during PRYAF's fundraising online auction, which hopes to close a $46,000 budget shortfall for the nonprofit. - IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB CANEPA
  • Image Courtesy Of Bob Canepa
  • 'YOSEMITE SUNSET' This color print by SLO County photographer Bob Canepa is another item available during PRYAF's fundraising online auction, which hopes to close a $46,000 budget shortfall for the nonprofit.

"Good question! One of the main goals for this auction was to honor and support the artists and raise funds for them as well as for PRYAF," Jagger noted. "Many artists still chose to donate 100 percent of the profits from their pieces. Some are donating 50 percent. We know the arts sector has been decimated by COVID-19, and we wanted to do what we can to help.

"Galleries are shut down for the foreseeable future, and most artists are unable to show their work to the public. Our goal was to support them for their willingness to stand alongside the next generation of artists, our PRYAF students, even during tough times. This is the arts community at its best!"

What will the raised money do?

"Funds raised through the virtual auction will directly fund our popular, no-cost, visual and performing arts program," Jagger said. "We've shifted to our virtual studio for the time being, but we want to be ready when we get the green light to reopen at full capacity—50 classes per week, filling 3,000 class seats per year in art, theater, music, dance, and creative enrichment. Cutting services is something we want to avoid.

"More than ever, students from across SLO County need to find an outlet and connection with friends and mentors," she continued. "They need to process what is going on in the world, and the arts is how we can help them do that."

What sort of virtual classes are happening now?

"Our Virtual Studio Theater Class led by Instructor Claire Fundaro recently assigned a project," Jagger explained. "Students were to produce a small skit each week, film it, and submit for the class. Week 1, they were asked to create colorful characters. Week 2, they were asked to envision a world full of detail where their characters would live. Week 3, they were asked to now imagine this world in crisis. What would that look like? The ideas were across the board! Finally, in week 4 they were asked to find a solution to that crisis. How could they solve it? It's creative and cathartic to use their own minds to find solutions. They are young artists and performers who can bring healing to themselves and others!"

It appears we're in another lockdown for the foreseeable future. How is PRYAF adapting to this new situation?

"Our teachers are working from home to create virtual studio programming," Jagger said. "They've become quite tech savvy, learning to present their classes in a new way. Instructors are doing the best they can to keep the connection alive for our students. We want them to know that we're still out here for them. We just have to work together in a different way.

"The arts community has the power to come together to solve unprecedented problems, serve our community, and keep our young people engaged," she continued. "Artists are coming forward like crazy to be part of the Virtual Art Auction. We are honored." Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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