Volunteer Spotlight: James Bacchi
James Bacchi seemed surprised when asked what led him to become a volunteer for Art for AIDS. “Volunteer? I’ve never felt like a volunteer,” he said. “I have always felt such ownership and such inclusion.” Bacchi’s confusion says as much about him as it says about AHP. It is only because Bacchi owned the tasks offered to him and executed them with such integrity and efficacy that he might now attribute his own success to us! It is AHP’s good fortune to attract volunteers like Bacchi—warm and smart, intrepid and engaged, fun and funny—to help us without getting paid.
When the AIDS epidemic hit, Bacchi co-owned On The Wall Gallery, an art gallery in New York’s East Village. “One by one, friends and associates were getting sick,” he remembered, “were in and out of the hospital, getting better, getting worse and so many died.”
“It was the 80’s. The art scene and the club scene were tied in a knot. The Palladium had just opened. I remember Keith Haring had done one of the rest rooms: AMAZING! Memorial services were held on the off nights of art openings and club closings.”
Bacchi loved San Francisco from the first time he visited in the 1980s while representing the work of friend and artist, Adam Kurtzman. “I remember Kurtzman and I going on and on about how everywhere heading North outside the city looked like set paintings.” He moved here permanently in 1993 and opened ArtHaus Gallery with his new best friend and business partner, Annette Schutz. Not long after, Bacchi was brought into Art for AIDS by founder Ellen Sherrod during an opening at ArtHaus. He did his research, and liked that the event was started by artists responding to the AIDS epidemic. He especially liked that AHP provides services free to clients.
When it comes to ideas on how to contribute to and improve Art for AIDS, Bacchi is irrepressible—and we are happy to bathe in his waterfall of concepts and ideas, even the ones that seem a tad impractical. This year he suggested that we put our HIV Testing Van on the rooftop deck at the Metreon, during Art for AIDS. This public relations coup would have required a crane and the closure of Mission Street, but Bacchi still insists it is a very good idea. The wonderful thing about the man is that even when his ideas are gently rejected, he feels great about the process and his role in it. And so many of his ideas are fabulous! Like, inviting Lenny the Cop to join the auctioneer on stage for the Hero bids, and adding the “buy it now” feature to the silent auction. “I’m not afraid to ask anyone for anything in the name of Art For AIDS. All they can say is no.”
After a year on the Art for AIDS planning committee, Bacchi joined the Art for AIDS jury. Today, that’s what gives him the most satisfaction. “As far as art juries go, this is the best mix ever. It’s a wonderful assembly . . . consisting of an art critic, an art advisor, artists, curators, collectors and gallery owners. That diversity is unique in regards to art juries.” Bacchi describes the jury process with affection. “I love . . . the way the group argues and fusses and fights about art. As a result, the caliber of work that ends up at this auction is the best. I just love the array of reactions.”
The Art for AIDS jury process offers artists who donate their work “a rare opportunity to have their art in front of many influential experts,” according to Bacchi. At the same time, Bacchi suggests to artists, “Don’t donate to Art for AIDS unless it’s your best work.”
AHP’s Art for AIDS jury coordinator, Lisa Roth, tells us what the humble Bacchi won’t say himself, “James Bacchi is the go-to guy when I need advice about anything art-related: who’s who in the art world, top quality framing, using social media to promote Art for AIDS, the list goes on. If it’s cool Bacchi already knows it. If Bacchi doesn’t know it, it’s probably not that cool!” Bacchi has also donated countless works to the auction and offers ArtHaus to host AHP fundraisers and artist and sponsor engagement events.
In return, however, AHP has given something back to Bacchi and not only the art he’s purchased during the auctions over the past nine years—no, the real standout moment for Bacchi was the night of October 25, 2013, during the 17th annual Art For AIDS auction when, after being single for nearly twenty years, his now partner and long time friend, Scott Balentine, asked him to go on a ‘real’ date. “It’s so easy to be with him,” Bacchi said, describing their recent living transition by quipping, “We have a conjoined art collection.” Just as Bacchi has been for AHP and AHP has been for Bacchi, the art volunteer-who-dedicates-himself-as-if-it-were-a-job calls his new partnership, “a lasting romance.” As Roth says, “James has brought his enthusiasm, sage advice, and indomitable spirit to Art for AIDS for almost a decade. We couldn’t do it without him.”