Some changes are in store for the Possible Dreams auction

Professional auctioneer Dan Flynn lent his skills to the 2011 auction under the big top. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

At the first Possible Dreams Auction in 1979, a sailboat ride with Walter Cronkite went to the evening’s highest bidder for $225. The price tag for the same dream 25 years later — with the addition of Carly Simon on board for the sail — had jumped to a staggering $85,000 (still the record for highest priced dream).

Over the years, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) and the auction have grown along with the needs of the Island it serves.

A number of celebrities with Vineyard connections have donated dreams over the years, giving the auction its reputation for glamour and star appeal.

This year, MVCS will continue a three-decade tradition when the auction returns to Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs on Monday, August 6, with a few significant changes. For the first time the evening will include a silent auction, and the post auction dinner will be scaled back to a $200 a head buffet dinner/dance held not under a tent but at the new Hooked Restaurant on Beach Road.

Despite the changes, organizers said the auction will retain its original concept as a community-centered event designed to raise much needed funds for MVCS, an organization that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Referring to the man who officiated at the auction for many years, and whose name has become synonymous with the event, auction chairman Sandy Pimentel said, “We want to preserve the legacy that was left to us by Art Buchwald, while introducing some new and fun elements. We plan to consolidate this year and keep the pace lively and provide some more opportunity for mingling.”

The auction’s running time had increased over the years to the point where it clocked in at over three hours last year. This time around the committee is capping the number of live auction items at 30 (down from a record high 50 last year) and Ms. Pimentel expects it will last around two hours.

The new dreams this year include a visit to the set of a new film with Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, front row seats to a play reading by Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen followed by cocktails with the celebrity couple; a walk down the red carpet at the Emmy Awards; and a hosted stay at a centuries-old private manor in Abruzzi, Italy.

Trip Barnes and former Plum TV personality Alex Friedman will add some local color to the auction by lending a hand to professional auctioneer Dan Flynn, who led the bidding for the first time last year.

Among the returning dreams are a private tour through restricted caves near Paris to view prehistoric paintings with expert Duncan Caldwell and research of your family’s genealogy by Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

The silent auction will include both “buyable” and one-of-a-kind “unbuyable” dreams donated by local businesses and individuals. The silent auction hour will give guests more of an opportunity to socialize and enjoy cocktails and pizza from Flatbread Company.

The after party at Hooked will feature a buffet dinner with a variety of stations offering everything from fried chicken and lobster rolls to beef tenderloin and a raw bar. Guests can dance to music by Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Seating for the dinner is open but, for $300, guests can purchase VIP tickets which will include reserved seating for both the auction and dinner, free drinks at the auction and the option of taxi service to and from the restaurant.

The auction committee hopes to attract new audience members with the inclusion of some less prohibitively priced silent auction items, a shorter running time and some lively audience grabbers like a Red Sox versus Yankees dream bidding war. Ms. Pimentel said that the committee also plans to direct some additional attention to the MVCS staff and volunteers this year.

“We are making the auction more fast-paced and fun,” said Ms. Pimentel, “But what I really want to focus on this year is building awareness of the fabulous services and the people behind the scenes, and how very lucky we are to have them.”

MVCS employs 110 people and more than 70 volunteers to provide vital human services such as counseling, child care, parenting education, domestic violence victim support, disability services, addiction rehabilitation, and elder outreach. Over the years, the Possible Dreams Auction has raised almost $9 million dollars which goes towards defraying the costs of unfunded care.

Major sponsors this year include Comcast and Hewlett-Packard.

“If you haven’t attended before, now is the time,” Ms. Pimentel said. “The Possible Dreams Auction is an Island institution that everyone should experience at least once and, at just $25, it’s the best show in town.”

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