"Midnight Sun, Hvitserkur, Iceland" by Tom Cory. Photography.

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SoLit's annual art auction to feature record collection of biddable items

If you go

› What: smART, curated art auction and benefit for Southern Lit Alliance

› When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

› Where: The Venue Chattanooga, 4119 Cummings Highway

› Admission: $50 general admission, $75 VIP (includes early entry and bidding, access to exclusive liquor bar and music)

› Phone: 267-1218

› Website:


› Live music this year at smART will be provided on the main stage by local R&B vocalist Courtney Reid.

› Sculptor Maria Willison and propane torch artist Hollie Berry will conduct live demonstrations.

› After the auction concludes, a new VIP lounge will open, featuring entertainment by pianist Walter Bitner and his son, Holden Bitner, on bass.

Given their traditional characterization as "starving," it might seem odd for artists to willingly part with half the proceeds from selling their work.

Every year, however, dozens of local artists agree to go halfsies with the Southern Lit Alliance during smART, the organization's annual silent auction fundraiser.

This year's auction, set for Thursday at The Venue Chattanooga, will feature a biddable collection including a single piece each from 59 local artists, a nearly 20 percent increase in participation over last year.

About 70 percent of artists who take part in the auction at least once reprise their contribution, which speaks to the event's reputation within the local arts community, says Southern Lit Alliance Director of Operations Ann Johnson.

"In the fundraiser, we like to promote the artists as much as we can, and I think they appreciate that," Johnson says.

In some fundraisers, "artists are asked to contribute 100 percent of their sale," she says. "We do not ask that of them. We understand that they have to make a living and support themselves."

The items up for bid at smART represent a wide range of media, from a landscape painting by Victoria Pearmain and mixed media by Valerie Fleming to nature photography by Spears McAllester and Drew Eldridge.

The artists' willingness to participate isn't purely altruistic, though. The event offers an excellent opportunity for exposure to a targeted audience, Johnson adds.

"It attracts serious art lovers and buyers from our metropolitan area," she says. "They have an opportunity to put their work in front of these people and gain future sales from the people who patronize the event. It's very much a win-win."

Last year's auction raised about $30,000, and Johnson says she hopes the increase in artist participation leads to a commensurate increase in donations. smART is Southern Lit Alliance's sole annual fundraiser, and 90 percent of the proceeds are funneled back into its community outreach programs such as the Young Southern Student Writers contest, Writers in Classrooms and Manifest Voices, a summer poetry workshop for teens.

"This is it for the year for us," Johnson says. "It's a very important part of our fundraising, an integral part of our fundraising. We count on it."

Although starting bids on the artwork typically begin around $60, most of the items are expected to attract high prices, Johnson says, so smART can be enjoyed even by those who can't afford to bid competitively.

"Aside from just buying the art, it's a fun night," she says. "It will get younger folks who are interested in starting to collect art an idea of what's out there."

Contact Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.