A lot of us are reticent to step forward, cautious about biting off more than we can chew. Sometimes you have to be careful of who volunteers you as well, especially if you’re a neophyte.  

“This is my first year on the board and Mary Cousar, I’ve worked with her, and she knew I liked to kind of take on challenges like this so she gave me a big one immediately,” Debbie Wall Stevens said, laughing.

The board is Mobile Arts Council (MAC); the challenge is their biggest annual fundraising event, “ART Works: The Throwdown” on Friday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m.
This fourth incarnation of the rapidly growing happening bears tweaks resulting from its rising popularity on the Mobile cultural schedule. The combination cocktail party and competition also has crept up the calendar for a few reasons.

For the last decade the Greater Mobile Art Awards took place in late summer and marked the beginning of the annual cultural season. Since the previously low-key event is being revamped now as a full-blown awards gala slated for the Saenger Theatre in December, The Throwdown is assuming its former kickoff role.

“Last year’s Throwdown was the last week in September but two weeks after ArtWalk, and we noticed last year we had a good group and wanted to keep it in that month,” Stevens explained. “We wanted to have it where we have a preview of the silent auction items at ArtWalk the week before so we timed it according to that, too.”

Other considerations arose. Those were more about distractions.

“Well, football has a lot to do with it, too. I think everybody thought that this early in the football season really wouldn’t affect people traveling to Tuscaloosa or Auburn for football games,” Stevens said.

Silent auction donations come from a variety of MAC members and member organizations. Advance notice promises “paintings, photographs, textiles, turned wood, ceramics and sculptures” along with “ticket packages to performances, museums, weekend getaways and more.

The main focus of the evening is its namesake component. That’s where five artists will be given a box containing preselected yet unknown items, a shared “supply closet” and 90 minutes in which to create a new work of art. Afterward, the creations will be sold in a live auction to the highest bidders and a victor will be crowned.

Returning to defend his status is champion Rando Dixon. He will be challenged by Bronwyn Coffeen, Chris Cumbie, Mateo and Amanda Solley.

“We had about nine artists apply to be in the competition and it was hard to narrow it down to four,” Stevens said.

Another component is the “ThrowOn” involving wearable art. Last year’s version featured painted dresses but this year, there’s a gender shift.

“We’re going to do hand-designed hats — as far as I know they’re going to do hats for men and women — and we have five artists doing those,” Stevens said.

The impromptu milliners are Ragan Creel, Meagan Drain, Destani Hoffman, Tieler James and Joy Klotz. Each of their hats will be modeled during the event then put up for bid by emcee Darwin Singleton of WPMI.

“I was on the committee for this last year, which I absolutely enjoyed and that’s probably why Mary thought I would like chairing it this time. This is exciting because it’s not a typical charity event where we serve cocktails and have a silent auction. There’s a loud party going on and the excitement of watching the artists under pressure. This is by far the best event I’ve ever been on a committee for,” Stevens said.

Local DJ Hunter Clark will provide music. Food will be provided from Royal Scam, Heroes and Heron Lakes Country Club.

The most popular refreshment is undoubtedly MAC’s signature drink, the Red Rooster. Be warned: it’s a bird with a mighty kick.

“The great thing about being on this board is that everybody knows what happens, they know what to look forward to and everybody lines up to be a part of it,” Stevens said about finding volunteer power. “We have participating sponsors and others who immediately signed up to return.”

The same can be said for attendance. Last year’s reservations were for roughly 450 with a slightly fewer actually showing. They’re expecting as many or more this go-round, which can make for another challenge.

“We’re outgrowing our space. Next year I think we’ll need a bigger venue because this is so popular. We’re starting to bust at the seams as far as accommodations with the office and [adjacent space] next door,” Stevens said.

Tickets are $30 per person and can be purchased online at brownpapertickets. They are also available at B&B Pet Stop, Ashland Gallery, Page & Palette bookstore and Mobile Arts Council.

CORRECTION: Last week’s Artifice credited local author Watt Key as an alumnus of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile. He is actually a graduate of Bayside Academy in Daphne.