Live Nude Fundraising

March 15, 2006       Craig Causer      

Sex sells, and has done so for centuries. But one question continues to confront nonprofits: Does an organization need to stay buttoned-up to get people to lay down cash?

While “the shake” and “the strut” have yet to supplant “the ask” as the primary gift facilitator for nonprofits, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) has proven that showing some flesh tones can produce an outpouring of greenbacks. In June, 2005, it held Broadway Bares 15: Rxxx – Take Two and Call Me in the Morning, an annual stage show that has raised nearly $3.5 million over the years.

The 2005 installment collected $654,000 — up from 2004’s previous record of $525,000 — with 9:30 p.m. and midnight showings at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. The medical-themed show included 196 dancers, 13 production numbers, five choreographers and a number of celebrity performers including David Hyde Pierce, Christina Applegate and Tim Curry. Oh, and stripping.

“No, the performers don’t strip down all the way nude – there’s panties and g-strings,” explained Anthony LaTorella, producer of Broadway Bares 15 and a BC/EFA staff member. “We try not to have any wardrobe malfunctions. But we do have a strip-a-thon, which is like a walk-a-thon. Performers are sponsored before the event. It raised over $50,000 last year.”

A sampling of the numbers included: Viagra-Meata-Vegamin, a 1950’s-style commercial based on the classic I Love Lucy episode; Strip Tuck involved the transformation of “big butt girls into femme fatales” as well as an on-call surgeon metamorphosis; Sex Ed featured a reserved teacher at Rydem High losing his inhibition with a little help from the class.

The shows end with a turn around the stage by all of the performance’s male and female dancers where the crowd has the opportunity to donate funds by stuffing bills in the performers’ g-strings. That segment alone garnered $32,223, including a personal check signed by Hyde Pierce that was folded and tucked into the shorts of Spamalot star Christopher Sieber.

The event included sponsors such as MAC Cosmetics, Absolut Vodka and Out magazine. The two shows entertained more than 6,500 ticket-purchasing guests, a figure LaTorella said, is a result of good planning and a lot of coordination. Tickets ranged in price from $50 for general admission to $600 for VIP seats and a cocktail reception prior to the show

“We were really fortunate that we had the celebrity interest last year, but we had a solid theme that attracted them. With almost 200 dancers, live vocals and sponsor participation, it’s a lot of hard work but the end result has been worth it.”

Whether it’s a more conservative viewpoint or the fear of turning off donors, many nonprofits might believe that fundraising in the buff isn’t worth the guff. But the New York Academy of Art (NYAA) has taken a more classical approach to the body with its annual Take Home a Nude art auction. More than 600 people participated in the auction, which sold more than 350 works of art and raised approximately $400,000 to support the academy’s programs and scholarships.

“Sometimes art schools have a difficult time raising funds beyond grants,” admitted an NYAA staffer who wished to remain anonymous. “One of the things we do very well is the form — we do figures of art. Our faculty, current students, alumni, celebrities and celebrity artists, and we’ve now branched out into photography and sculpture, all contribute. We had about 350 works of art, including approximately 70 photographs, which filled two large rooms with oils and drawings. One whole room was just burlesque sketches because we had a burlesque drawing marathon.”

Not all of the auction items are nudes. The concept of the event is to celebrate figurative and skilled art in working with anatomy. Since the NYAA works to preserve classical training, which is a little more focused on form and technique, the Take Home a Nude theme seemed like a natural. Faculty, current students, alumni, celebrities and celebrity artists all provide the art to be auctioned off. Last year, the highest bid was $13,000 for a work by Eric Fischl. An Alvin Booth piece sold for $8,000, which was above its market value, the NYAA staffer said.

Once the art is amassed, the NYAA frames each piece in-house with donated frames from high-end framing businesses, including David Rothman Frame Makers, J. Pocker & Son, and Lowy’s. The school purchases the glass at cost, frames the work, documents it and then sends it to the auction house, which it rents out no longer than one week, the staffer said. In 2005, Phillips de Pury & Company housed the auction with Sotheby’s hosting in 2004, and in 2003 it was Christie’s.

“The event had been going on in Tribeca for about 10 years and up until 2001, it was held in our Tribeca location in our art studios in the main hall,” the staffer explained. “Because of 9/11 we were kind of forced, in a good way, to bring it to some of the major auction houses and it has really taken off since then.”


Dancing around the issue

In February, 2004, members of the strip club industry got together in British Columbia, Canada, to raise money for Jocelyne, a former exotic dancer who was battling terminal cancer. Jocelyne passed away in November of that year but as a tribute to her memory the Exotic Dancers for Cancer event lives on.

“The second annual Exotic Dancers for Cancer raised more than $3,000 for May’s Place Hospice, after our funds were turned down by other organizations,” explained Annie Temple, event organizer and a former dancer. “A prominent cancer organization outright declined our offer without an explanation. The hospice that Jocelyne had stayed in said they were willing to accept the donation, and would put a plaque on their wall saying where it came from, but they did not want their name mentioned in any of our promotions or media relations because they are owned by three churches.”

May’s Place Hospice accepted the donation and did not shy away from its source. “We respect the dignity of Jocelyne and the dancers who donated their time,” former director of development Erin McNeill told The Tri-City News in Vancouver. McNeill has since left the hospice, a decision that was unrelated to the Dancers for Cancer gift.

Dancers for Cancer, which will hold its 2006 event at the Drake Showlounge, utilizes a number of methods to raise funds, beginning with a door charge of $10. Raffles, silent auctions, 50/50 drawings as well as the auctioning of underwear from the stage have each boosted the final fundraising total. Signed digital prints of the dancers and “Support Your Local Exotic Dancers for Cancer” T-shirts were a sample of items for sale. This year, the dancers are donating all of their shows and the Drake is contributing the money it would normally pay the dancers.

The group has yet to select a charity for this year’s event. “We may donate again to May’s Place, or we may donate to an individual close to the industry who is suffering with this terrible disease,” she said. “We are very much interested to see if there are other organizations out there like May’s Place that will gratefully accept our donations and say so proudly.”


Hindsight isn’t 20/20

Back in 2001, when the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) created a postcard depicting the posterior view of a chorus line of nude, middle-aged men, it thought that it was an eye-catching way to promote a BAMcinematek series titled “The World According to Shorts.” The mailing requirements department of the Staten Island Manor Road Post Office thought enough of the mailing of 10,000 postcards to label it a “sexually- oriented ad.” Rather than protest the ruling, BAM inserted the postcards into envelopes to ensure delivery.

What happened five years ago has not stopped BAM from considering the use of nudity in general. The nonprofit will utilize it when it is pertinent to the art on its stages, according to Sandy Sawotka, director of communications.

“We present a lot of modern dance and theater and particularly with some dance events there’s nudity,” Sawotka said. “When it’s a beautiful representation of what’s on stage, we use it. Of course, we’ve learned that there’s a way to do it if you want to mail with the U.S. Postal Service. Other than that consideration, it hasn’t changed the way we think about nudity. We present cutting edge performances and sometimes that entails nudity.”

Although she could not cite a specific example, Sawotka said that since the issue with the Postal Service occurred, invitations to parties for dance events that might show nudity have been mailed in envelopes. “We’re not censored by what happened and we didn’t learn to censor ourselves,” Sawotka added. “We’ll continue to represent what’s on our stage and when it calls for nudity, we’ll use it.” DRFE