Priceless

Do you remember the first time you saw one of those long-running “Priceless” ads from Mastercard? You know, the ones that list the price tag for a series of related items before declaring some aspect of the overall experience to be priceless? The very first of these ads went like this: footage shows a boy and his dad attending a baseball game as the narrator delivers the now-iconic lines:

Two tickets: $46
Two hot dogs, two popcorns, two sodas: $27
One autographed baseball: $50
Real conversation with 11-year-old son: priceless

As these ads always go on to say, there really are some things money can’t buy. It’s hard to put a price tag on things like time with friends and family or unique, once-in-a-lifetime events. It’s hard to put a price tag on experiences.

Take a glance through the catalog for the Music Academy’s Online Auction, a fundraising effort supported by the Women’s Auxiliary, and you’ll see that it’s riddled with priceless experiences. A private cocktail party on one of the Academy’s beautiful patios, followed by conducting lessons and the opportunity to lead live musicians; an intimate dinner and recital on the stage in Hahn Hall; and the chance to commission a brand new piece of music and hear it played at a social-distance-friendly premiere – these are just a few of the offerings up for bid in the auction. Sure, you can put a dollar amount on cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. What you can’t put a dollar amount on, however, are memories. A private conducting lesson for you and a group of your friends. Hearing for the first time a piece of music that exists because of your philanthropy. Each and every one of these auction items truly is priceless.

Just as interesting as what’s in the auction, though, is how this new endeavor came to be. The story behind the auction is one of resilience and creativity, and it begins and ends with the Women’s Auxiliary. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Music Academy of the West has been supporting our mission since their founding in 1954. During that 66-year history, these women have served on the board of directors and its various committees; been crucial participants in the Music Academy’s Compeer Program; and formed the core of the Academy’s volunteer opportunities, serving as everything from docents to ushers. Through their strong social bonds, they have contributed to the familial atmosphere of the Music Academy. And they have fundraised. Through philanthropic efforts big and small, the members of the Women’s Auxiliary have proven themselves to be not only one of the most effective sources of charitable giving for the Academy, but one of the most effective organizations of its kind in Santa Barbara. Period.

The Women’s Auxiliary have supported the Academy through a variety of fundraising efforts over the years. In 1979, they began operating The Rack, a boutique for women’s clothing. That was joined in 1986 by The Treasure House, a store selling antiques, furniture, fine silver, and china. Then there was May Madness, a large annual sale of art, clothing, antiques, furniture, and more that practically took over the entire campus. This crowd-pleasing event, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of its forty-year history, was the Auxiliary’s primary fundraiser.

Standing Zoom Only: one of the Auction’s most unique items is a special socially distanced piano recital with Academy faculty artist Conor Hanick (pictured). The winning bid also includes a commission and world premiere for a new work by an acclaimed composer.

Guests enjoying the Music in the Gardens event.

In 2018, May Madness was replaced with a new, music-related endeavor: Music in the Gardens. Part concert, part auction, part social event, Music in the Gardens brought hundreds of guests to the Academy’s grounds for an afternoon of music, bidding, and food and drink. Each garden featured a different ensemble and menu offering, allowing guests the ability to wander through various genres of music and food. The theme of the first Music in the Gardens, World Rhythms, focused on musical styles from around the globe, while the 2019 event, American Rhythms, featured popular styles from the United States.

As has been the case for so many organizations, however, the COVID-19 pandemic required the Women’s Auxiliary to rethink their fundraising methods. It required them to pivot. Faced with the challenges that come with social distancing, the members of the Auxiliary homed in on one of the most successful components of Music in the Gardens: the online auction. The online auction was a huge hit during the 2018 and 2019 events, and an online auction could be conducted safely during the pandemic. For months the Auxiliary and their partners on the Academy’s administration have been hard at work preparing a stellar lineup filled with one-of-a-kind experiences. Best of all, each of these experiences offers the flexibility to officially schedule them only when it is safe to do so.

There is no doubt that the Online Auction will go down as another in a long line of successful philanthropic endeavors by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Music Academy of the West. From May Madness to Music in the Gardens – and everything in between – the Auxiliary has consistently been a powerful force in funding the Music Academy and its mission of developing the next generation of classically-trained musicians. The numbers, I think, speak for themselves:

Members of the Women’s Auxiliary: 106
Annual contribution of the Women’s Auxiliary to the Music Academy: $100,000
The camaraderie they offer to each other, the support they provide for the Academy: priceless

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West