ArtAID organizers plan separate fundraisers

Two conflicting news releases sent out earlier this week by organizers of the annual ArtAID fundraiser left supporters of the 17-year-old event confused about its future.

But the authors of both news releases agreed Wednesday that ArtAID will continue as a biennial event and that a second, similar event will take its place in the off years.

ArtAID, a fundraiser for local HIV/AIDS organization Positive Directions, is an annual party that features food, drink, art auctions and a fashion show.

Planet Hair owners Tod Ernst and Graham Ross started the event as a fashion show, and it grew into a can't-miss October event that in the past several years has drawn crowds of 1,500 to the Cotillion and raised about $115,000 a year for Positive Directions.

But the show is a lot of work, said Ross, who spends the entire year planning the runway show and dedicating much of his staff to its execution.

In January, Ross and Ernst told Positive Directions that they needed a break, primarily so they could plan a bigger and better show for 2012, one that they hope to move to a bigger venue and beef up with corporate sponsorships.

"In order to do that and do it right, we needed to tweak the event and make sure that we have an incredible show lined up with corporate sponsorships," Ross said. "That cannot get done with eight or nine months' lead time."

But the event was already scheduled for Oct. 8, and Positive Directions — which uses the ArtAID proceeds for nutrition programs and to offer its 250-plus clients emergency assistance — didn't want to lose the money ArtAID brings in.

They decided to go ahead with a similar event that would offer everything but the fashion show. Plans are under way to replace the show this year with another extravaganza, though organizers aren't ready to announce what that will be.

Ross said that although he supports the Positive Directions cause, he doesn't want Positive Directions to call the show ArtAID.

On Monday, Ross issued a news release stating that ArtAID would become a biennial event and that the next event would be in 2012.

The release, sent by publicist Jill D. Miller, also said that Positive Directions planned to go ahead with a different 2011 event.

On Tuesday, James Woods, Positive Directions' office manager and an ArtAID co-chair, sent out his own release clarifying that although Ernst and Ross wouldn't put on the runway show this year, the event would go on and include all of its usual events, including a cocktail party and preview party in the week preceding the event.

It'll also include an auction, but Woods is considering opening it to more than just art.

Both sides say they want to work together. Planning for 2012 will begin soon, with teams from both Planet Hair and Positive Directions taking part. And Ernst and Ross have agreed to participate in this year's event in a limited capacity.

Woods said this year's event would likely have its own name but also call itself an ArtAID fundraiser.

As it takes shape, he said, he hopes it will morph into its own event with a different feel and atmosphere.

But the transition won't happen instantly, he said, and he doesn't want to lose ArtAID's core crowd.

"It doesn't matter what we call it," he said. "We could call it 'Freak Show' and people are still going to call it ArtAID. That's just the reality of it."