The Art of Giving: "100 Pieces" Is Building A Thriving (And Caring) Art Community Out Of LA's Ad Talent

Three years ago, a trio of Los Angeles advertising veterans began brainstorming an offbeat way to highlight the industry’s hidden creative talents, bring its notoriously competitive community together, and do some good in the process.

Their idea: an art show selling fine art, photography, furniture, and sculptural works created by ad industry members, with proceeds going to a Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y.), a Venice, CA empowerment and job skills program for homeless children. They called the show 100 Pieces.

“We were hopeful we’d get 100 pieces of art and have 100 guests attend,” says Deutsch, North America chief creative officer Pete Favat, the co-founder, along with his producer wife, Amy, and agency rep Melissa Ross.

Instead, they got 160 submissions and nearly 400 guests donning everything from hoodies to cocktail attire showing up at a Santa Monica studio that Ross owned. Last year’s show drew 170 pieces and 600 attendees—the two combined raising a collective $113,000.

Having outgrown its old digs with more than 200 works and 600 RSVPs thus far, this year’s fete—to take place Nov. 30—will move to an 8000-square-foot soundstage in Deutsch’s LA production facility, Steelhead.

The entertainment, design, and fine art worlds have taken note as the events’ novelty and reputation spread. Contributions from an international cadre of artists including graphic designer Shepard Fairey, musician Mark Mothersbaugh, abstract painter Ed Moses, and photographers Mark Seliger and Lauren Greenfield, have appeared alongside those from creatives at three dozen advertising agencies and production houses—including Deutsch, 72 and Sunny, Saatchi & Saatchi, Disney’s Yellow Shoes, The Mill, and Framestore.

“It gives an art director a chance to have his work hanging in the same gallery as a Shepard Fairey,” says Peter, whose passion is furniture making and donated pieces to the prior events. One creative even gained enough confidence from his showing to pursue gallery representation.

“The art world does a good job of keeping people out of it,” says Peter. “Twice this week, we approached people in the ad agencies who said, `I’m not talented enough.’ That’s the kind of vibe that people get.” To preserve their egalitarian style, they don’t list artist names next to pieces. “It levels the playing field. It’s not about fame; it’s about commitment to helping a cause. We’re constantly on the lookout for how to do good with creativity.”

In that sense, 100 Pieces draws from their collective professional journeys. The Favats worked on the Truth anti-tobacco campaign, and Peter separately on Al Gore’s climate change campaign. Amy now applies her production skills to non-profits, and serves as a S.P.Y. board member and volunteer. Ross—whose firm Melissa Ross Represents reps creative agencies, production companies, and post-production houses—is a former art gallery owner whose first show presented Dennis Hopper’s works.

“This is really a marketing campaign for S.P.Y. because it brings attention to the issue of homeless children,” says Peter. “We wanted to make you aware of the issue without it being a public service announcement. But we don’t want to make people feel guilty. We want people to give of themselves in a way that makes them feel fulfilled, that doesn’t prey on their guilt, or have them just writing a check to an organization.”

The resulting vibe of the event is non-competitive (a rare feeling in advertising) and celebratory. “You hear over and over, people saying that it doesn't feel like a networking event,” adds Ross. “People are talking about art—not work.”

Unlike the first two shows, which were weeks in the making, the Favats and Ross have been planning this year’s event since the summer with the volunteer efforts from a small crew that includes Ross’ designer husband, Buzzell Studios CEO Chris Buzzell, and donated production set flats from LA nonprofit EcoSet Consulting, which recycles used sets from film shoots.

“There are no walls to hang art on, so we’re making giant cubes on which to hang the art, which has tripled the amount of labor,” says Peter. “We’d like to make it a showpiece in itself and evolve it into an immersive space.”

The silent auction structure and range of art enables people of all ages and bank accounts to participate. “We have art that is attainable in this show, that twentysomethings can afford to bid on and know that the money will go to a good cause,” says Amy. “It gets people involved in social issues at a young age.”

It has also inspired the creative community to get involved in other ways. A month after last year’s event, one of Ross’ clients, videographer Tessa Davis, volunteered to produce documentary shorts about S.P.Y. for its website. A number of restaurants have offered to serve food at the organization, and some of the participating artists have worked with the S.P.Y. kids, a few of which have, in turn, donated their own pieces to the auction.

Monies raised by the 100 Pieces event support S.P.Y.’s general operating expenses and a drop-in center providing life-saving and survival services to local homeless youth. They include food, clothing, hygiene supplies, and showers, case-management, health and wellness clinic, and education and employment Services, says S.PY. executive director Alison Hurst.

Yet despite requests to recreate this event in other cities, “I like that this is an LA community thing,” says Amy. “I don't want it to get too big; just keep it honest and raw.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean 100 Pieces couldn’t serve as a template.

“We’re trying to make you emotional about a problem and get you to help," says Peter. “Everyone wins. Artists contribute to a cause and showcase their art, buyers get an awesome piece of art and help an organization, and the organization benefits from the funds. We’ve labeled this as a new way to market for causes.”