If attendance at fundraisers is any indication that the economy is taking a teeny tiny step forward, then the Arts Council of Princeton’s Pinot to Picasso event, held at the Technology Center on Carter Road, deserves mention on Rachel Maddow. According to Kookie Johnson, director of communications at the Arts Council, more than 500 guests attended the April 23 event, which raised more than $77,000, a gross of about $8,500 over last year — and sponsorship was at an all-time high.

What’s the big draw? It’s definitely word of mouth — the party just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year — and the tombola, an art auction in the Italian tradition. The Arts Council’s tombola works like this: ticketholders are assigned a number. In the party space, donated artworks from dozens of artists in all different media are displayed on the walls — and a looping video also projects photos of the artwork. During the cocktail hour — which could possibly be the loudest in Princeton, but it’s a happy loud — guests mingle and jot down the numbers of their favorite pieces of art.

Starting the auction was a production in itself, requiring Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the Arts Council, to announce to the crowd to come take their seats, a formidable job, as the guests, like children in class with a substitute teacher, were having so much fun talking that they didn’t listen a bit.

One by one, however, the crowd settled down (kind of) and ticketholder numbers were called (pulled at random from a wind-up metal basket). Photos of the artwork were projected in thumbnail size on the wall, like a big checkerboard. Nails were bitten, teeth were clenched, knuckles turned white, breath was held, and the edges of seats were sat on — until all the art was taken.

I caught up with Tim Andrews, board president of the Arts Council, after the auction to find out what he brought home. “I was crazy and decided to buy two tickets for the tombola. Everything was incredible but I was lucky to get two of my top picks:an archival black and white print by Mark Ludak, ‘Tinicum River Landing,’ an incredible morning scene to join my beginning black and white collection; and an oversized vase by Rod Martino in creams, oranges, and blues that reflects the colors in some of my favorite dining room art. I plan to use it on my dining table to elevate floral arrangements during cocktail parties.”

For more information visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org. To view all the Crash photos, visit our Pinot to Picasso Facebook album at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=427116&id=458639125149

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