By Kelly Burch
---- — Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon painters and photographers all over the Merrimack Valley next weekend. They’re busy working for a good cause: It’s time for the annual New Paint fundraiser to benefit the Essex Art Center in Lawrence.
The images captured by 30 participating artists on Saturday quickly will be turned around for auction at 6 p.m. in the main fundraiser for the center. Last year, the event brought in more than $48,000.
“That’s a big chunk of change,” said Leslie Costello, executive director of the center.
Most of the money raised at New Paint will be used to support the Essex Art Center’s after-school programs, which last year delivered art classes to more than 1,500 students from around the region.
To create the work to be auctioned that night, 30 artists will gather at the center at 8 a.m. on Saturday. After breakfast, they go out to paint and photograph scenes. All of the artwork must be created that day, and the artists are due back with their ready-to-hang work by 4 p.m.
“I am blown away every year by what people can produce under pressure,” Costello said, noting that many artists paint scenes from the area, although some work further away.
“The only restriction is that the work must be created on that day,” Costello said.
While the center does receive grant funding, New Paint is important because the funds can be used anywhere within the organization, whereas most grant money is earmarked for certain purposes.
“It’s great because we get unrestricted funds and we can use them wherever we need them,” Costello said.
Beyond being an important fundraiser, New Paint is a popular social event.
“It’s a great opportunity to get dressed up. You can come however you want, but for those of us who like to get dressed up it’s perfect,” Costello said.
This year, the New Paint fundraiser celebrates the 20-year anniversary of Essex Art Center and the 15th anniversary of the event itself. Guests can expect a glass of champagne on arrival and will be treated to a few other celebratory surprises throughout the night.
The mainstay of the fundraiser is the art auction. Artists come from Boston, Maine and many places in between. The center splits the proceeds from the sale of the art with the artist.
“We’re an advocate for artists, so we do the 50-50 split,” Costello said. “Artists need that. Everyone else always asks artists to give, and we try not to do that.”
In addition to new art, the live auction will feature five pieces of artwork created by students at Lawrence High School. The proceeds from that portion of the auction support a scholarship fund for students who are pursuing higher education in art, Costello said.
Art is the highlight of the night, but other items are up for grabs at the auction to be emceed by NECN meteorologist Matt Noyes. Among the offerings will be Red Sox tickets, a stay in Boston’s South End, a tour of New England Cable News with Noyes, and many other prizes. A silent auction will feature studio art pieces. And a buffet dinner will be served by Two Chefs Are Better Than One Catering.
“Everyone raves about them,” Costello said. “They go all out for us.”
A cash bar will be available through the night. Guests can participate in a pottery-firing demonstration and enjoy live music.
“It’s a great event for everyone and the public is welcome,” Costello said. “It’s a fun, laid-back night.”
If You Go What: Essex Art Center's annual New Paint fundraiser. Where: Osgood Landing, 1600 Osgood St., North Andover. When: Saturday, June 1. 6 p.m. How: Tickets $55 in advance, $65 at the door. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.essexartcenter.org or call 978.685.2343.