Virus Relief in the Auction Industry

Liz Catalano
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A recently-organized collaboration between Sotheby’s, Google, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) benefits coronavirus relief efforts around the world. This ongoing event takes an unusual format: bidders are competing for virtual experiences with leading figures in the areas of politics, entertainment, and design. Online bidding for the MayDay: COVID-19 Charity Auction opened on Friday, May 1st, and will close one week later, on May 8th.

“Sotheby’s has a long tradition of supporting charitable organizations in times of need,” says Sotheby’s CEO Charles F. Stewart. “We are proud to bring our centuries of experience and the power of our online auctions to bear against the impact of COVID-19.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton (left) and Madeleine Albright (right). Image from Sotheby’s.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (left) and Madeleine Albright (right). Image from Sotheby’s.

The available experiences range from a virtual coffee conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton to an acting lesson with Sir Patrick Stewart. Other individuals and groups have committed to the effort, offering chances to record a song with British rock musician Sting, experience a personal coaching session with entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, and take a virtual visit to the castle where Downton Abbey was filmed. History buffs will have the chance to win a private conversation with Russel “Rusty” Schweickart, a lunar module pilot on the Apollo 9 space mission.

The meetings will be conducted virtually through Google Meet, a platform recently expanded by the media giant to match the demand for online meeting spaces. Javier Soltero, the G Suite vice president and general manager for Google, said in a statement, “We’re honored to join Sotheby’s and the leading figures involved with this auction to provide a secure, easy and accessible way to connect and creatively support each other throughout these times.”

Minimum bids start at $50 with no reserve prices. With 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the IRC, the auction comes at a key moment for relief efforts. The IRC offers aid to many vulnerable populations, providing translations of public health guidance for refugees and establishing hand-washing facilities in developing countries.

David Miliband, the IRC’s President and CEO, described the necessity of emergency financial support from private industry during a conversation with Sotheby’s. “Private philanthropy can take the risks that governments are wary of taking,” he said. “[It] can fill in the holes in the global safety net that are created by politics.” A private conversation with Miliband is also available for bidding in the sale.

Porsche 911 Speedster sold through RM Sotheby’s. Image from Automobile Magazine.
Porsche 911 Speedster sold through RM Sotheby’s. Image from Automobile Magazine.

This is not Sotheby’s first relief effort in responding to the crisis. RM Sotheby’s recently auctioned a Porsche 911 sports car, a matching chronograph wristwatch, and several behind-the-scenes experiences. The online sale closed on Wednesday, April 22, with a winning bid of $500,000. Porsche, the auction’s partner, matched the bid for a total donation of $1 million to the United Way Worldwide’s Community Response and Recovery Fund.

Other auction houses are also stepping up with COVID-19 relief efforts. A Christie’s online sale of Andy Warhol photographs is open now through May 6th and will benefit an artist relief fund. Bids have already started on many of the lots, which include 60 daily life photographs taken by Warhol. Heritage Auctions will also offer a charity sale benefiting the North Texas Food Bank in mid-May. Signed items from the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Texas Rangers, and Dallas Stars will be up for bid. The event will start at 8:00 PM CT on Wednesday, May 13th.

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