Last week, on Earth Day, was the first Christie's Green Auction, called "A Bid to Save the Earth." As my friend Emma Grady at Treehugger reported, in a few short hours, $1,387,000 was raised for four major environmental NGOs: Conservation International, Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Central Park Conservancy.
The good news for those who couldn't attend the glamorous, star-studded affair is that a companion online silent auction runs until May 6, co-operated with the good folk of Charitybuzz, and featuring some exciting items like dinner and theater with actress Sigourney Weaver, high green fashion pieces and a signed replica of the Millennium Falcon.
The live auction, complete with an old-school, British-accent auctioneer, was hosted by Susan and David Rockefeller, Jr. (note pic below), and emceed by green-leaning comedian Chevy Chase. Chase's lovely wife Jayni, a longtime champion of environmental education, was on hand as well. Chevy Chase had some funny quips, including a racy one about the Rockefellers. Notably, the event took place in "their" Rockefeller Center, with Christie's beautiful space decked out with hanging plants, "living walls" and flat screens ticking off global carbon emissions.
2010 Heart of Green Lifetime Achievement winner Ted Danson was a guest of the auction, telling press it was a "great way to celebrate Earth Day." So was international superstar Salma Hayek (pictured), in $5,700 boots. I asked Hayek for a green tip she'd share with readers of The Daily Green. "I think of my two-and-a-half year old daughter, and how we have to think of our children," she answered. She asked me for a green tip, and I told her to turn her water heater down to save energy, but still have hot water. "Should I turn it off if I'm going to be away?" she asked. I told her it was probably a good idea, but since she travels a lot she should think about getting a tankless water heater.
At the press lineup before the auction, Susan Rockefeller showed off some of the jewelry she designs, the proceeds of which support her work with Oceana. Her husband started Sailors for the Sea, and the couple was auctioning a chance to sail along the Maine coast with them and an Oceana scientist, to get a close look at what needs protecting. "We really need to propel the environmental agenda," Mrs. Rockefeller, a documentary filmmaker, told the press.
When Emma Grady of Treehugger asked oceans supporter Sam Waterston (of Law & Order fame) what is the biggest issue we have to worry about now, he answered ocean acidification. "It's changing the chemistry of the oceans, and many organisms need a certain chemistry to be able to make their shells," he said. Waterston added, "I thought the plenty that I grew up with in New England, all the fish and mollusks, still existed. But it hasn't." By the way, Waterston seems just as brilliant and intense as his most famous character.
Keith Addis, the chair of Oceana, said he was impressed at the way four big environmental groups were able to come together, with Christie's, NBC Universal and sponsors Deutsche Bank and Target (which marked their new 100% organic cotton line by Loomstate). "Environmental groups probably don't work together as often as they should," reflected Addis, who added that Oceana has been recently focused on overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and convincing the World Trade Organization to roll back harmful subsidies that promote exploitation of international waters. "We were certain that the bluefin tuna would be listed as endangered, but then we were sabotaged by business interests," Addis said about the recent setback. In response to opening more of America's waters to coastal drilling, in order to placate Republicans and get a meaningful energy bill, Addis said, "We should have no coastal drilling until all the science has been done showing that it can be done safely." He said he did believe the Obama administration would soon pass a powerful oceans policy.
Peter Seligmann, CEO and chair of Conservation International, told the press that one of the most important ways to deal with climate change is to slow deforestation. He pointed to a "huge battle" in Brazil now to protect forests and prevent building massive dams that would flood large swaths of wilderness, also home to indigenous peoples with intact cultures. Seligmann suggested that consumers give more thought to everything they buy, and check out conservation.org.
Actor Willie Garson (perhaps best known for playing Stanford on Sex and the City), said that people respond to success, and that the environmental movement is working. Garson explained that he is very concerned about air quality. "Growing up in New Jersey, I was always asthmatic, and back then I was a freak, I was the only kid with asthma," said Garson. "But now everyone in my son's class has it." Garson also pointed out that when he first got a Prius, about ten years ago, no one knew what hybrid cars were, but now he feels like he sees them everywhere.
Other celebs seen entering Christie's included John McEnroe, Jim Cramer, Ann Curry, Natalie Morales, James Lipton, Marsha Thomason, Miranda Kerr (who has her own line of natural cosmetics in Australia) and others. Reporters have listed Candice Bergen, Brooke Shields and Brian Williams, though I didn't see them.
The auction itself was a surreal event, with society types raising their paddles to support green causes on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fine platinum watch, signed by the maker, went for $90,000. A luxury trip to Bali fetched $55,000 and a Keith Tyson painting $140,000. A fantastic Damien Hirst piece -- a green heart with butterflies, not unlike our own Heart of Green -- sold for $92,000, while a photo safari in Botswana with leading conservationists and the editor of National Geographic went for $150,000. Christie's waived all fees and commissions for the event.
Each of the four beneficiary groups also had a lot in which they showed a brief presentation, and auctioneer Christopher Burge invited guests to make donations at specified levels. "Support Oceana for $50,000," Burge said, and several paddles went up. "At $10,000, ladies and gentlemen." Maybe a dozen paddles went up. Even more for $5,000. Harrison Ford, a longtime supporter of Conservation International, announced in a pre-taped segment that he was chipping in $100,000 to that group.
Chatting with Aussie supermodel Miranda Kerr and Reuven Fenton of the New York Post.
"Environmental issues are at the top of the mind for our clients and staff," the CEO of Christie's explained as he introduced emcee Chevy Chase and his auctioneer, Christopher Burge. "Art and the environment are two essentials that bring color and meaning to or lives," said David Rockefeller, Jr. from the podium. Of course, those are two areas his famous family has supported heavily over the past century. "Each of us can play a part by bidding early and bidding often," he quipped. "It's a night to celebrate the joy our parks and coastlines have brought."
Despite the impressive take, some members of the press were grumbling a bit that many of the lots sold considerably below suggested prices. I'd never been to an auction before so I can't say whether that is typical, but an acquaintance who knows the art market said those who did win works got a great deal. Of course, they were donated by the artists for the cause.
The Christie's Green Auction was glamorous and exciting, and certainly raised money and awareness for environmental issues. It can make those of us in the middle class feel small and insignificant ($90,000 for a watch?), but I think that's ok every once in a while. The event was tastefully done, and included a fair amount of information on environmental issues, hopefully influencing the influencers to make a difference the rest of the year.
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