Bringing the Community Together

More than 400 pieces of art were on display at the annual fine art auction


Guests take part in the live auction, emceed by Raul Castro, at this year's Faculty + Alumni Fine Art Auction. Photo by Bob Toy.

Like every year, conversations at the 22nd Annual Faculty + Alumni Fine Art Auction flowed as easily as the wine. The afternoon sun poured into The Cannery plaza on Saturday, Nov. 4, as guests trickled into the gallery to admire over 400 pieces of art from abstract to contemporary realism. Beneath the laughs and everyday conversations, however, was an underlying emphasis on the importance of supporting the arts community and emerging artists.

“The primary purpose of starting this 22 years ago was to raise money for our students,” said Craig Nelson, executive director of painting and printmaking for the School of Fine Art at Academy of Art University. With the support of Academy of Art University President Elisa Stephens, and the assistance of Serita Sangimino and Dana Sornstein, the auction has grown to its current stature.

Since its inception in 1995, the auction has been rooted in helping students achieve their artistic goals. Half the auction’s proceeds go to benefit students through the Academy’s Student Scholarship Fund, the rest of the proceeds going directly to the auction artists. 

Today, the auction has grown into a prominent community event that welcomes gallerists and art collectors from across the nation along with community members and Academy directors, instructors and students. For many art buyers, it’s the quality of the artwork that keeps them coming back year after year.

“The work is even better this year,” said Nelson, the originator of the auction.  “What I’ve heard from gallerists and everybody in attendance is that the artwork is more impressive year after year.”

For many attendees as well, the quality and creativity of the work is simply a bonus on top of knowing they are helping bolster a next generation of artists. 

By late afternoon, silent auction bid cards for the incredibly diverse collection of art began to collect signatures. Cityscapes, landscapes, still life, pop art, jewelry and sculpture adorned the softly lit walls and hallways.


Guests view the work on display at the annual Faculty + Alumni Fine Art Auction. Photo by Bob Toy.

One San Francisco resident, Pam Rex, looked on intently as she studied an oil painting of a downtown San Francisco streetscape by Academy alumna Elizabeth Marcial. Rex has attended different auctions over the past 20 years. What keeps her coming back, she said, is her love for the artwork and her desire to support those who create it. 

“Schools are cutting art and music programs all over the country,” Rex said. “It’s important to support the arts community and to keep art in schools. I want to encourage artists to keep going.” 

As the silent auction slowly came to a close, the excitement of the live auction began to build. The crowd shuffled into another gallery space where 26 art pieces were on display ready to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Top-selling artists made up the live auction lineup, including Academy instructors Carolyn Meyer, Meri Brin, Anna and Craig Nelson, Tomutsu Takashima, Jesse Mangerson, Beverly Lazor and sculptor Peter Schifrin, just to name a few.  Academy alumni Brian Blood, Laurie Kersey, Samantha Bueller and part-time instructors Greg Gandy and Joevic Yeban, participate and attend year after year.

For Yeban, attending the auction is meaningful. A former scholarship recipient himself and a successful artist today, Yeban directly signifies the impact of the contributions made at the fine art auction.


A guest views the variety of work on display at this year's auction. Photo by Bob Toy.


Craig Nelson, executive director of painting and printmaking for the School of Fine Art, addresses the guests at this year’s Fine Art Auction. Photo by Bob Toy.

As he stood in front of his art, four oil paintings of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, scenes of San Francisco streets from his daily commute to work and a yellow rubber duckie, the story behind his work and artistic journey came to life. He reminisced about his time at the Academy and how grateful he is to have received a scholarship. 

“It helped me a lot. It got me through school,” he said. “As a graduate, it’s my honor to contribute to the auction scholarships. Everything I have accomplished, I owe to my education here at the Academy.”

Other alumni artists featured in the auction like Gandy and Elbert Gu, who flew in from Taiwan, were also awarded money when they were struggling students.

Both said it was their privilege to participate in the auction, which continues to promote their careers today. 

The auction’s humble beginnings, started with a small show in the Academy’s 180 New Montgomery building. Nelson spoke of the early days, when the then-grassroots project first started to culminate some two decades ago. 

“We just went off the seat of our pants,” he said. “We had no budget. We made our own postcards that we passed out on the street corner.”

This year’s auction, a high-energy and entertaining event, deeply represented the full-circle progression of Academy students, while showcasing the impact that the scholarship fund can have on their artistic lives.