A Night at the Theater, Michael Guinane

Good Works

Art doesn’t just imitate life—you can’t have one with the other.

And while healthcare may be one of the hot-button political issues of our time, there’s no denying this important fact: while our government debates what healthcare should look like in this country, there are people on the ground who need care urgently.

In Ohio, Equitas Health is one of the premiere organizations responding to this need. Growing out of the Columbus AIDS Task Force, which was founded in 1989 in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, Equitas now serves over 67,000 people annually, providing primary care, dentistry, behavioral health and pharmaceutical care to members of the LGBTQ community and anyone else who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. On September 15, the Columbus Museum of Art will host Art for Life, a semi-annual fundraiser to support Equitas’ life-saving work.

HIV doesn’t make headlines the way it used to, and that’s due in part to organizations like Equitas that provide care to those afflicted by the virus and those at risk of infection.

“When I started in 1993, AIDS was a death sentence. Most folks were dead in 18 months,” Equitas President and CEO Bill Hardy said. “Today, if you get HIV positive folks diagnosed quickly and into care, they can achieve viral suppression, which means that their immune systems are intact, they cannot transmit the virus.” The viral suppression rate of HIV positive people treated at Equitas is 87 percent, almost twice the national average.

“The relationship between or the synergy between the art community and the HIV crisis is an obvious one… it’s been a celebration of life and obviously a demonstration of coming together to fight HIV and prevent its spread,” Hardy said. The first Art for Life “… was divided between artists who had something to donate and donors who had something to spend,” said Heather Llewellyn, Special Events and Development Manager at Equitas. “It just has grown from there.”

The event features both a live and silent auction. This year, 95 pieces of original artwork—all donated by the artists—will be available for bidding. “We have I believe about six national artists that range from Joan Miro to Keith Haring, Dale Chihuly [and] Dion Johnson,” Llewellyn said.

Despite the inclusion of these big names—which will be sold by an auctioneer from Christie’s who donates his time for this event—the bulk of pieces come from local emerging artists.

“There are quite a few artists who have shared with us that they’ve been able to build their careers though this event because they’re getting their name out in front of these art collectors,” said Craig Diaz, Director of Development at Equitas. Columbus artist Laura Alexander experienced this firsthand. “My work was selected for the live auction and went for three times its value, which was very shocking to me, and I’m so glad the piece raised much more than I thought it would!”

While increasing their value is a welcome side effect of donating to Art for Life, the artists’ true motivation is raising funds to fight HIV and support LGBTQ community health.

“I’ve seen friends die, I’ve watched loves die,” said artist Brian Reaume. “I remember the old days of panic and self-loathing, the hopelessness and fear. In remembrance, I feel it is my duty to support and help facilitate education and awareness.”

Along with the chance to see and purchase one-of-a-kind works of art, attendees this year can expect a jubilant atmosphere. “It’s very much like a family reunion. It is 30 years of the community coming together,” Llewellyn said, adding that artists, and business and civic leaders attend the event. Equitas staff credits event chair Janelle Coleman of L Brands with building support for the event. “Art for Life continues to be a one-of-a-kind event in our community. I am proud to play a part in highlighting the talent of local artists while raising funds for Equitas Health’s important mission,” Coleman said.

As the organization has expanded, its mission has broadened as well, to provide “care for all.” To do this, Equitas operates three community health centers, including one in the Short North and one in King-Lincoln, that provide robust one-stop services to anyone who walks through their doors. The organization also remains committed to the LGBTQ community, and recently opened the Mozaic Center on North Campus for young transgender and gender non-conforming people of color.

Art for Life is in many ways a reflection of the organization’s ambitious goal. Hardy said the event and Equitas’ work are about “saving lives and creating a healthier world.” It’s hard to think of a better reason to spend a night out on the town. •

Art for Life will be held on September 15 at the Columbus Museum of Art. To purchase tickets, visit artforlife.arcohio.org.

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