Art for a cause: Friends of Family Planning Art Show

Sandy Bernat of Seastone Papers will be showing her one-of-a-kind handmade books. — Photo courtesy of Family Planning

Next weekend, spring will once again be heralded in grand and artistic style. The Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury will be filled with the work of some of the most successful and well-known Island artists, emerging artists, and those who have just begun to express their creative gifts.

The weekend-long Friends of Family Planning Art Show begins with the Opening Gala on Thursday, May 26, from 6 pm to 8 pm, when the artwork will be previewed in a festive atmosphere.

The art show, an all-inclusive demonstration of Island talent, has been an annual event since 1989 when Liza Coogan, one of the Island’s artists and more community-conscious residents, saw the need and came up with the win-win idea: Give artists a chance to display and sell their work and at the same time, raise needed funds for a worthy cause.

The show began modestly on Easter weekend in 1989 with a small dedicated group of volunteers, a smattering of Island artists, and the generosity of Vineyard merchants who allowed the art show to take over their stores for the weekend — first Murdick’s Fudge followed by Frank and Vasha Brunelle’s former Vineyard Haven store, the old Beadniks building, then Vineyard Playhouse. It finally found its home at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury where the art show and preview gala is now held every Memorial Day weekend.

Ms. Coogan remembers that Priscilla Wren, Steve Lohman and Jennifer Strachan were the principal show designers for a number of years, followed by Amy Upton, then, she says, “back to me and Marston Clough.”

It is no small challenge to present the wide assortment of art — paintings, sculpture, photographs, textiles, jewelry — in a way that shows each piece to its best advantage. While size restrictions exist by necessity, the show is non-juried, and the artists give their creative imagination full range of expression.

“For me and my crew of hangers, the best part is watching the teamwork, knowing we have beginning and seasoned hands handling fragile, priceless, and beloved art creations,” Ms. Coogan says. “Artists have healthy egos so we need to hear them, yet trust in our own judgment, quite often taking a risk on how and where to position a piece.”

She lists some of the things that make The Friends of Family Planning Art Show unique, saying “We have matured into a show where all artists come together and create a display not seen anywhere else. We encourage art that intrigues and impresses with its originality, and display it in a space filled with light and energy.”

Close to 100 artists participate, contributing 40 percent of their sales to Family Planning of Martha’s Vineyard. Many exceed that amount, but all recognize a need made urgent by the current budget restrictions on an essential Island service.

“We have so much more competition now,” Ms. Coogan says, “the difference being that we are artists and patrons giving to Family Planning to keep it alive on the Vineyard.”

Family Planning of Martha’s Vineyard, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Health Care Initiative in Brockton, provides affordable and confidential reproductive health and family planning services, that includes screening for anemia, high blood pressure, and diabetes, gynecological exams, counseling and education, pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STD) and HIV testing (once provided by the AIDS Alliance), and birth control. Family Planning director Catharine Coogan says their clients, many of whom are adolescents, trust in the confidentiality of the clinic. “It’s good that they come here,” she says, “because there is a lot of misinformation out there.”

And Friends of Family Planning, whose board includes Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students, supports the mission of Family Planning by funding continuing education for the staff, providing free condoms, extending outreach programs, offering reimbursement for vasectomies and most conspicuously, having made possible the new Family Planning center on State Road.

Next weekend’s art show will enable the group to continue their support.

Liza Coogan, who reveals, “I am passing the torch after this show,” says, “The energy is already there. I feel it at the board meetings, and I am confident this show will be our best so far.”

Friends of Family Planning Art Show Gala Preview Party, Thursday, May 26, 6 pm to 8 pm at the Agricultural Hall, West Tisbury. Food provided by Jan Buhrman of Kitchen Porch Catering. Music by Jeremy Berlin. $50 at the door; free parking. The art show and sale runs from May 27 to May 29, 10 am to 6 pm. Free admission. 508-693-1208.