Lavish trips, signed memorabilia among auction items.
Friday is time for a fiesta with a cause.
Cha-cha on down to the Horseshoe Casino, the Philadelphia Center won't mind; they'll be holding their annual "Auction Against AIDS" fundraiser.
Formerly at the Eldorado Casino, the center voted to change locations this year because of its ever-growing attendance.
"We got a little too big for the space they were able to provide us," Philadelphia director Brett Malone said. "It's growing pains, but we just couldn't squeeze our event into their ballroom anymore."
And of course, for Malone and the rest of the center, that's a plus.
With already more than 500 tickets sold, the center is hoping for at least 750 to 800 overall. "We hope it's crowded," Malone said.
This year's theme is "Viva la Vida," spanish for "Live the life."
"We chose this theme because of the demographic that our center serves," said Chris Canizares, co-chair of the auction and board member for the center. "Within the Latino community, as well as the African-American community, the numbers are on the rise of HIV positive people and people we need to help. It encompasses all Latin culture."
And encompass it will. "Right now we've gathered about 140 (pieces of art)," said Canizares. "We're hoping for as close to 300 as we can."
Special musical guests for the evening include San Antonio-based Colao, who will perform a variety of Latin dance music, as well as Desdemona (Melonye Grant) and Sandy's Dance Academy. With various Latin themed art and food, the auction includes a multitude of trips like Spain, Argentina/Chile and Cabo San Lucas.
"Those are big ticket items and sometimes it gets very competitive," Malone said. "This year I'm kind of curious to see how some of the consignment items are going to go."
Among those items are a bit of autographed memorabilia, ranging from a Muhammad Ali boxing glove to a Tina Turner album. "She'll be your 'private dancer' for the right price," Malone said laughingly.
Other items up for auction include a drum-head display from the Rolling Stones, photos of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor and other signed albums.
Even though the collection of memorabilia may be quite the find, auction co-chair Rebecca Thomas is interested in the art.
"It's a wonderful place to be able to buy original art, rather than something from a store," said Thomas, who also is vice president of the board. "I've donated art before; it's exciting for the artist."
Thomas is in charge of decorating the event — from dressing tables to creating her signature life-size "Delphia."
"She's a little more full figured this year," Thomas said of her papier-maché creation. This year she'll be in salsa attire. "It's a lot of pressure," Thomas said. What started as a simple centerpiece has now turned into a favorite auction item, with bids well past $700.
Thomas is also in charge of the sponsor table centerpiece contest. The winner will receive a "store credit" for the evening to spend at the beginning of the auction.
"It was really local artists who came together, and volunteers who were trying to keep their friends and family members alive and have hope," said Malone of the center's first auction. He attests to this day that it's still the art that drives the fundraising.
"It keeps us true to our roots," he said. "It was artists who came together for a cause."
On HIV and AIDS awareness
For many members of the board, the issue of HIV and AIDS is a personal one.
"I've seen so many of my friends die over the years," Malone said. "I'm 44, the first time I ever heard about AIDS was in high school in the early '80s. Back then it was a death sentence — you get diagnosed with HIV, you develop AIDS and you die."
Malone stepped in as director of the center 4½ years ago, the same time that Thomas decided to join as well.
"I had a very close lifelong friend who died from AIDS," said Thomas, who was living in New Jersey at the time. "When I moved back to Shreveport he encouraged me to join, and then he died."
Her friend was David Demint, and she said being a part of this is meaningful to her because of their friendship.
"We've been touched on a personal level by this virus, and what we've seen happen over the last 30 years is that it is not really gone away. There is no cure still," Malone said. "With every new generation that comes on it's a whole new generation of people who are clueless."
Helping those in need is Canizares, who is living HIV positive.
"This affects me personally," he said. After living in Shreveport for a few years, Canizares decided to join the Philadelphia Center in 2009. "I thought this would be a great place to work."
What he signed up for was an environment that serves all people infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, including himself. "That's why we do what we do," Malone said. "We take it very personally."