Bidsquare CEO on Success of MassArt Annual Fundraising Event

Liz Catalano
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Massachusetts College of Art and Design Raised $1 Million for Scholarships

The Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s 31st annual MassArt Auction was held exclusively online this year using the Bidsquare bidding platform. The proceeds of the event supported scholarships for students and academic programs. In this collaboration with Bidsquare, the MassArt Foundation raised over $950,000 in the live, timed, and buy-now sessions. Auction Daily spoke with Bidsquare’s President and CEO, Allis Ghim, about the success of this event and the future of benefit auctions.

MassArt typically holds its charity auction at the end of April, combining a live session with some online bidding. With the COVID-19 crisis eliminating the possibility of in-person events, the MassArt Foundation approached Bidsquare to explore a fully digital auction. The result of this collaboration was a timed auction that ran over two weeks in April, a live event on April 25th, and a buy-now sale that will remain open until 4:00 PM CDT on Friday, May 8th, all hosted on the Bidsquare platform.

This year’s auction included works from MassArt students, alumni, and faculty, as well as established artists in the Boston area. Sol Lewitt, Sean Flood, Susan Gheyssari, James Turrell, and Dana Schutz were among the artists whose work was featured in this year’s event. And the top sold lots included Ingrid Calame’s ee-ah-dowewa-eehh! and Turrell’s From Aten Reign. 100% of the proceeds will go toward scholarship funding for deserving students. Over 300 artists donated their work to the sale, which was the first to feature student work in both the live and timed sessions.

Ingrid Calame’s “ee-ah-dowewa-eehh!” sold for $16,800 in the live auction.
Image from Bidsquare
Ingrid Calame’s “ee-ah-dowewa-eehh!” sold for $16,800 in the live auction.
Image from Bidsquare.

Ghim attributes the success of this event to “a true partnership approach” between MassArt and Bidsquare. “When MassArt first approached us, over a series of conference calls and emails, we developed a holistic approach leveraging our technology and platform as well as marketing.” she told Auction Daily. The bidding platform was tailored to fit the needs of MassArt, with many intentional choices leading to a well-planned event. 

In lieu of the in-person event, Karen Keane, the CEO of Skinner, auctioned the lots through a live audio stream. Maintaining the excitement of the in-person experience was a key strategy for MassArt, with several pieces boasting 12 or more bids. 

The timed auction was scheduled to end an hour after the live stream. This intentional timing helped direct bidders to other pieces of art that could still be bought after the live auction ended. At the end of the bidding, participants also received a link to a donation page, giving them the opportunity to further support MassArt students. A buy-now sale following the main bidding sessions was also designed to boost the proceeds of the fundraiser. Other nonprofits and organizations looking to replicate MassArt’s success can utilize the same tools, says Ghim. Leveraging the full extent of the Bidsquare platform and carefully planning each element were important steps in the process.

Bidsquare’s technology can be harnessed by auction houses, dealers, and charities alike, though nonprofits tend to face added challenges in the transition to online auctions. As many nonprofits hold only one big event per year, the move to digital can be an adjustment. Bidsquare offers onboarding sessions for new clients, teaching them how to navigate and maximize the website’s features. By including lot descriptions, photo galleries, and even pre-recorded videos, the energy and excitement of an in-person event can be brought to the online experience. Many clients new to the site have been pleased with the experience. “We have an easy and intuitive platform that requires very minimal technical expertise. That is something I think we have always kept in mind,” Ghim said.

Leah Giberson’s With Traveleze
Leah Giberson’s With Traveleze sold for $8,960 in the timed auction.
Image from Bidsquare.

Uncertainty in the art world continues as the COVID-19 crisis develops. “There is more of a need for nonprofits to think about their strategy for fundraising,” Ghim told Auction Daily. “It’s increasingly clear that they need to consider online as a channel for their fundraising efforts.” 

Bidsquare has already seen additional inquiries from museums and nonprofits after the success of the MassArt event. The platform sees this time as an opportunity to especially support arts organizations. Other sellers are also changing their strategies. Auction houses are beginning to utilize Bidsquare’s buy-now format to relist unsold lots and drive additional sales. In contrast, some dealers are exploring the timed auction format to offer different types of inventory.

“It is very exciting to see how a platform such as Bidsquare can help auction houses, dealers and nonprofit organizations expand their digital footprint and become a vital part of their digital strategy,” Ghim said.

Results of the live and timed MassArt auctions can be viewed on Bidsquare.

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