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By Erin Harnisch

For much of the 20th Century, Santa Monica and Venice were centers for cultural experimentation that attracted young artists and architects in search of a creative place to live and work.

After Venice Family Clinic opened in 1970, these undiscovered talents and others in need relied on it for free and discounted medical care and the other services they needed to stay healthy. As they achieved fame, many of these artists and architects gave back to the Clinic by creating and supporting the Venice Family Clinic Art Walk & Auction.

The dedication of the arts community and the broader community continues today, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of most events, including the annual Venice Family Clinic Art Walk & Auction. Because we cannot gather in large groups, this year’s event will be an online auction of art works from May 3 to May 19 at artsy.net/veniceartwalk.

The event will honor world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, one of the founders of Venice Art Walk, 41 years ago.

As it has in years past, this year’s auction will feature nearly 200 artworks by nationally recognized contemporary artists, including Kelly Akashi, Billy Al Bengston, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Greg Colson, Zoe Crosher, Laddie John Dill, Channing Hansen, Claudy Jongstra, Robert Levine, T. Kelly Mason, Vanessa Prager, Astrid Preston, Ed Ruscha, Kim Schoenstadt, The Haas Brothers and many more.

Even though some artists are facing financial uncertainty – with galleries and studios shuttered by the pandemic – they have asked what more they can do to help the Clinic at this time. They have donated significant pieces of art to the online auction, and they are reaching out to their networks on social media to help increase awareness of the event. One artist, a nurse who contracted COVID-19, even reached out while in the ICU to say he is motivated to get well so he can submit his artwork.

Other supporters have also stepped forward to help us reach our goals. It is a significant shift to hold our auction exclusively online, instead of at an event that draws nearly 6,000 people and raised over $1 million last year. But the Clinic’s supporters have already made donations, pledged to purchase art and suggested ways to reimagine the beloved community experience of Venice Family Clinic Art Walk & Auction via virtual events.

This outpouring of support is critical as we grapple with the most extensive health crisis of our lifetimes. The people the Clinic serves are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Nearly 4,500 of our patients are experiencing homelessness, and they often have underlying health issues that put them at higher risk of severe illness if they become infected. Many of our other patients are uninsured or have lost their jobs and cannot afford health care. Or they may still be working in hourly jobs in essential businesses or other people’s homes – which puts them at greater risk of being exposed to the virus than people who can do their work from their homes.

During these challenging times, Venice Family Clinic is on the front lines to help protect our community and our most vulnerable neighbors. Our health care professionals are providing medical care and other services in compliance with the COVID-19 restrictions.

They are consulting with patients over the phone and, when needed, in person and with appropriate precautions to prevent the virus’ spread. They are making sure our patients have the care they need, regardless of their income or immigration status.

Amid these difficult times, Venice Family Clinic is marking its 50th anniversary with a renewed commitment to our mission to provide quality primary health care to those in need.

We know we can continue to fulfill that mission for generations to come because of the support of our health care providers and staff, our dedicated volunteers and our generous donors. Together, we can achieve our vision of improving the health of people and communities through accessible, quality care.

Erin Harnisch is director of special events at Venice Family Clinic, a nonprofit community health center providing comprehensive, high-quality care to people in need in Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista, Inglewood and Culver City. For more information, please visit venicefamilyclinic.org.

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