Even Art Buchwald had his dream.
“I imagine it this way,” he wrote in a 2002 column in this newspaper. “I am going to be cremated and then have my ashes dropped over every cocktail party on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s the only way I can make all the parties held here in the summer. I want Cape Air, the friendly, nine-seat airline, to fly me . . . The plane takes off from Martha’s Vineyard Airport, and Mike Wallace is in charge of dropping the ashes.”
When the doors open at the 30th annual Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Possible Dreams auction on Monday, Mr. Buchwald’s will not be among the 34 dreams up for bid. And, having passed away in January 2007 after a lengthy illness, the event will have to soldier on for the second year in a row without its famed auctioneer, who faithfully and energetically manned the podium for 25 impressive years.
But oh, the long-running, wildly anticipated and enormously successful event will not disappoint.
Four great golf dreams are on the roster. Sailing adventures and kayak rides are up for auction. And for the right price: cuisine from North Africa or cocktails du jour or the opportunity to meet and greet some of the most interesting minds from Lambert’s Cove to Los Angeles, from New York to Napa. Add to the afternoon live music from Livingston Taylor and the Beetlebung Jazz Trio, enthusiastic and witty auctioneers Rick Lee and Susan Klein and a fresh new venue, the Outerland nightclub at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, and it becomes clear that the auction which began in 1979 with a ticket price of $10, is still going strong.
There was a moment last summer when that strength was tested. Still mourning the loss of Mr. Buchwald and plagued by a gloomy weather forecast, event organizers made the decision to postpone the auction one day. The decision was sound — it rained that afternoon and the auction was to be held outside in the garden of the Edgartown Harborside Inn. But it was a decision which carried consequences. Many celebrity guests and ticket holders could not attend, and the event brought in $560,000 for community services. In 2006, it raised $810,000.
So this year, there will be some change, a thing appropriate for an event entering its third decade. The auction will take place under an elegant tent at the nightclub. “Adding to our usual tension every year would be the weather watch, so that’s actually been sort of peaceful,” laughed Jan Hatchard, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services director of development.
An online auction begun three years ago is no more and the list of dreams was reduced to 34. “Art had a hard time saying no. He used to tell us he wanted to have 30 dreams, but we’d always end up with 50. We’d go to him on July first when he got to the Vineyard with a list of 30 and he’d say, ‘Oh, I ran into so and so who wants me to include this,’ or ‘This person wants me to add this dream,’” she said. “This is where Possible Dreams began 30 years ago, with these one-of-a-kind, connected dreams, so we thought, that’s where we should go back, back to our roots. So no raffle. We’re not doing anything but our dreams.”
And the dreams are not too shabby. When forced to choose one, Ms. Hatchard answered dream number 20 — a dinner at the Edgartown home of Emmy Award-winning writer and director Diane English. Fellow guests will be producer Victoria Pearman, art collector Olga Hirshhorn, Academy award-winning actress Patricia Neal, photographer Alison Shaw and Tamara Buchwald. Carol McManus of Espresso Love will cater along with other female guest chefs. “I love the dream, The Women,” Ms. Hatchard gushed. “We have a lot of interesting women here this time of year and year round. It’s sort of a no-boys allowed evening, although they could come, I guess. I just really like that.”
As always, the dreams are Vineyard based. Another favorite of Ms. Hatchard’s is dream number two: the chance for parents and kids to host a pool party, see the Nutcracker ballet and attend a private reading with local author Kate Feiffer, whose new children’s book President Pennybaker hits bookstores later this summer. Island artist Allen Whiting will do a painting for the right price and has dedicated his dream to the memory of Helen Maley, founder of the community services’ Early Childhood Program and the woman who introduced Mr. Whiting to his wife.
There has been a lot of interest already in dream number six — an evening of North African cuisine with Vineyard chef and food writer Joan Nathan — Ms. Hatchard said. And in a community with a love of the outdoors and activities, there will be more than one opportunity to take in some sport, from golfing trips to a chance to see the Boston Celtics; from tickets to the Patriots to an evening in the owner’s box at the Red Sox.
These dreams — for women, for children, for the community — go hand-in-hand with the community services mission. Speaking of the list of dreams, Ms. Hatchard said: “It does mirror what we do and the people that we serve.” The organization is the oldest and only umbrella social services organization on the Island. Through its many programs, community services serves roughly 6,000 people, slightly less than half of the Island’s year round population. The nonprofit provides many services free and calculates fees on a sliding scale. Additional funding comes from grants, from state, federal and local contracts for services and, most importantly, from the community.
About one-fifth of the $5.5 million operating budget is made up of private donations, events like Monday’s auction and proceeds from the Thrift Shop in Vineyard Haven. “We’re really looking forward to the auction,” said community services executive director Julia Burgess. “Even with the change of venue we anticipate it will be a success. We are absolutely dependent upon as much participation as possible, so we hope everyone comes out. The people that live here really need it.”
The list this year also reflects a new generation of dreamers. “Chris Wallace is doing a dream that is very evocative of the one his father used to do,” Ms. Hatchard said. Young actor and Chilmarker Jake Gyllenhaal will take one lucky bidder to the set of his new film with Chilmarker and Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, and Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols are inviting a young person between 12 and 20 to come see them at work.
In addition, Joel Buchwald, the late Mr. Buchwald’s son, will emcee an evening dinner following the auction to honor seven members of the Island community whose devotion to the event has been unwavering over the years. They are: Norman Bridwell, Walter Cronkite, Jules Feiffer, Mrs. Hirshhorn, Patricia Neal, Carly Simon and Mike Wallace. The dinner, also at Outerland, is sold out. Tickets cost $300 and included parking, VIP seating at Outerland, admission to the auction and tickets to see Jennifer Holliday (of Dreamgirls) perform on the nightclub stage following the dinner. “I love that whole piece of the next generation stepping forward,” Ms. Hatchard said. “It’s kind of like passing a torch.”
It is a torch which needs help to stay lit. “When times get tough, like they are economically right now, the first people that suffer are the people we serve and they’ve never needed this support more,” said Ms. Hatchard. If any community can provide that light, it is this one.
To again quote Mr. Buchwald: “So this Island is sort of a crazy, safe haven, a safe house so to speak. We come here not only because it is beautiful, but because we feel safe. Our children can be safe. It’s Our Town. People fall in love; people die. I really feel like the Stage Manager in Our Town. It’s real life. What makes it so good is that you’re a witness to life on this Island,” he wrote in 2003 upon being honored with the annual Permanent Endowment Creative Living Award.
“When I go back to Washington, all the doors are closed. Here, all the doors are open. You feel at home here.”
The 30th annual Possible Dreams auction begins at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Outerland at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. and tickets are $25. Parking at the club costs $10, but a free shuttle is available from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The shuttle will run back and forth all day and all are encouraged to park there. Following the auction is a benefit dinner and doors will open to the public at 9 p.m. for a concert with Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Jennifer Holliday. For more information, visit possibledreamsauction.org or call 508-693-7900, extension 267.