Blog: John D. Lamb

The premise behind art is to say something in a way it hasn't been said (or sung) before. Singer and songwriter John D. Lamb, director of Springfed Arts, writes about running Metro Detroit's literary workshop venue and the merits of a kick in the pants.

Backyard Art

Our annual fundraiser is held in my backyard.  Springfed Arts Backyard Benefit happens this year on Saturday, May 12, rain or shine.  I rent a tent.

Ten years ago, our first fundraiser was held at Edison's, a high-end nightclub in the basement of the popular Birmingham restaurant, Merrill 220.  We called the benefit the Light Bulb Bash, in deference to Thomas Alva Edison's invention and for the creative inspiration Springfed Arts aims to spark.  The kitchen upstairs supplied the food and my band supplied the mood.  
With the help of an enthusiastic and well-connected fundraiser committee, we made good money that year.  Several folks who had little experience with our organization gave generous dollar amounts. 

I learned how to apply for charitable solicitation and raffle licenses, acquire donated items from individuals and businesses, design invitations, write up auction item descriptions and bid sheets, send tax receipt letters of thanks, and thank them again.

We raised pretty good money the next few years, too.  By 2007, you can probably guess, yes, we made less.  Sure, you can blame it on the economy.  I think, also, it became a tougher job to sustain the successful enthusiasm of our early fundraising committees.  Sure, you can blame that on the economy, too.  I think, also, it got tougher for me to sustain the level of enthusiasm needed to enthuse a successful fundraising committee.

For the last few years we've been doing it in my backyard.  I plan the whole thing.  Three weeks before the event, I have a luncheon at my house.  This is when I have my one committee meeting.  They show up with donated raffle and auction items in the form of gift baskets, boxes of wine, art, and, always we have a garden cart filled with handy garden tools for a gardener.  I feed everybody, mostly ladies (been trying to get more of my male buddies to participate just for a good mix).  While everyone gabs, we find out how much the donated items are worth and what is a fair opening bid.  I wouldn't want someone to show up at the party and be insulted by a low suggested bid on a gift they procured.  It's understood that we want folks to feel like they're getting a deal and maybe we'll get to see some real bidding wars.  That's the best.

The auction is silent except for one live auction item.  Here's the description:  Italian Dinner for Ten (Live Auction).  John D. Lamb cooks in your home and cleans the kitchen.  Dessert includes a selection of songs from John a la guitar.  Menu: wine, appetizers, plate of Pasta Bolognese, salad, spumoni or cannoli with coffee.  The Bolognese sauce is a meat sauce honed and handed down by John's mom, Marianna.  (For vegetarians we can offer a delicious marinara sauce or pesto).  Top bid receives Vince & Joe's Gourmet Market gift basket.  Opening bid $500.

The Italian Dinner has been a good money maker.  One year, Michael Moore was the auctioneer and he managed to squeeze $1,500 out of some lucky friends.  WXYZ anchorman Stephen Clark was the auctioneer a few years back and he did good, too.  Not as good as in those early days when people had more... you know.  I've done these dinners in many wonderful homes.  It's fun to go into someone else's kitchen and sort of take control, kind of like being sanctioned to be a bossy chef on one of those cooking shows.
The generous contributions support Springfed Art's retreat scholarship fund, underwrites creative writing workshops/readings, and sponsors visits by nationally acclaimed songwriters, authors and poets.

Holding the benefit in my backyard is an impetus to get me working in the garden and tending to the lawn.  I invite my musical friends to perform for free.  They get a thank you letter.  The music stops at 10 p.m.  My neighbors get a letter.  They are invited to attend for free.  So far, no one has called the cops on me.