By Ann Reily
---- — Watching paint dry isn’t usually considered an exciting prospect.
But the annual Wet Paint Auction aims to make the activity a fun one, with just-created works up for bid in a fundraiser for the Newburyport Commission for Diversity and Tolerance.
More than 30 artists will set up their easels throughout Newburyport tomorrow morning, working outdoors if weather permits, and spend the day painting. Orange flags or signs will state that they are participating in the Wet Paint Auction, so admiring passers-by will know they have the opportunity to own the pieces if they so desire.
“The spirit and the tradition of the event is to see what you can produce in a day,” said Kathleen Shaw, one of the organizers.
Shaw highlights the diversity of the work, saying that she is always amazed at how many different scenes of Newburyport are captured.
“You end up getting a wide variety of things from the local area,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had any duplicates.”
Artists are required to submit their paintings to the Mission Oak Grill by late afternoon, when they are hung in Steeple Hall in preparation for the preview party at 6:30 p.m. The party gives guests a chance to see the art before the auction and to enjoy live music by classical guitarist Donna Ricci.
A silent auction also starts at 6:30 and features another 20 pieces of artwork, along with items such as pottery and jewelry. Additionally, there will be hors d’oeuvres, desserts and a cash bar.
At 7:30, the live auction begins, with Marc Clopton of The Actors Studio of Newburyport serving as the auctioneer.
“We’ve wanted to highlight local celebrities,” Shaw said. Last year, former Firehouse director John Budzyna did the honors.
Because the paintings are still wet, the “Vanna Whites” walking around displaying each painting have to be really careful, Shaw said.
“They might get paint on them,” she said. “I always tell people to look nice but not too nice.”
Returning artists this year include prominent Newburyporters Alan Bull and Robert Scott Jackson, along with second-time participant Hannah Stevens Allen, a 2012 Wheaton College graduate.
“She’s one of those people to keep an eye on,” Shaw said. “She is doing a landscape for us, but she really specializes in portrait painting and mural work.”
Audrey Bechler is a painter who has taken part in every Wet Paint Auction, Shaw said. A former Newburyport resident, she now lives in Waldoboro, Maine.
“She has come back and faithfully painted every year,” Shaw said. “Her stuff is really spectacular.”
A new artist this year is Nate Bibaud, an Amesbury native who started using a wrist splint to help him draw and paint after he was paralyzed in a 2010 accident. He has donated a small acrylic painting for the silent auction.
“It’s kind of a nice mix,” Shaw said. “We’ve got people who have been painting for 50 years, some in the middle, some newer.”
Proceeds from the evening are split between the artists and the Newburyport Friends for Peace, the fundraising arm for the Commission for Diversity and Tolerance. The commission awards several mini-grants each year to organizations and schools for programs that exemplify the mission to eliminate prejudice and discrimination. Recipients include Nock Middle School’s International Expo, the YWCA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, and the Diversity Reading Project and Collection at the Emma Andrews Library.
The commission also presents the annual Newburyport Peace Prize to a boy and girl from each of the city’s schools, as well as to a man and woman in the community.
Though the Friends for Peace just took the auction over in recent years, it dates back more than 20 years, previously raising money for the No Place for Hate Committee and the Women’s Crisis Center (now the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center).
If you go
What: Wet Paint Auction
When: Tomorrow. Preview party and silent auction start at 6:30 p.m., with live auction at 7:30
Where: Steeple Hall at the Mission Oak Grill, 26 Green St., Newburyport
How much: $30. Tickets available at the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, online at www.newburyportfriendsforpeace.org and at the door.