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Local artist to set his work on fire if it doesn't sell for charity

Artist John Gerber is donating a painting for an auction to support Housing First MN Foundation. If the minimum bid of $1,600 isn't met, he'll set it on fire.

EDINA, Minn. — The concept is certainly unusual: potentially setting valued artwork on fire for a cause. But John Gerber, of John Gerber Fine Art, hopes the concept of "Art Ransom" draws attention to the organization Housing First MN Foundation, whether or not it sells.

Thursday, between 5:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., Gerber is partnering with design studio The District Edina to host a gallery event. The evening will include wine, hors d'oeuvres, and plenty of artwork, including a silent auction for one of his self portraits, which currently is displayed at 9 Mile Gallery

The work, entitled "Inner Me," is listed for a minimum bid of $1,600 - half of its gallery value. If that amount is met, all the proceeds will go to Housing First MN Foundation. If not, he'll burn it in the parking lot.

"It won’t take much to ignite it," Gerber said. "I’ve got the supplies, and everyone will just have to bow their heads in shame after not bidding on it and come out to the parking lot and watch it go up in flames."

Gerber first pitched the idea to Greg Rich, the developer of The District Edina, which is home to 9 Mile Gallery. He said it was sort of in jest.

"It was really kind of a joke. I said how 'bout we do a piece for charity… and if it doesn’t meet a minimum bid, we burn it. And Greg said, 'I love it!'" Gerber said.

Credit: John Gerber Fine Art
Art Ransom: A charity event for Housing First Minnesota Foundation

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The two had previously established a relationship with Housing First MN Foundation, the charitable arm of the state's trade organization for home builders. They build and remodel homes for veterans and others in the community who are experiencing homelessness.

"It is a charity that blends well with what we do, both from a building perspective as The District Edina, but even art kind of works well," Rich said. "Art is something that makes a house a home. And that’s the message we’re really trying to send."

Katie Elfstrom, spokesperson for the foundation, said Housing First is "honored" to be selected as the organization.

"Because we’re able to tap the talents and the resources of our industry, we’re able to make that money go even further than just an ordinary project," Elfstrom said. "Each donation helps us complete projects to build homes, remodel homes, and create more transitional housing in the Twin Cities."

Credit: Eva Andersen
Artwork by John Gerber featured in 9 Mile Gallery

Rich hopes attendees can take away the importance of supporting local artists too.

"How do we make people understand that this is a social event, but it’s also a 'support the artist' type of event? And we came across the idea of truly – just hammering the concept home," he said. "If you are not willing to buy a beautiful piece of art for literally a fraction of its gallery value, well, then… to hell with it! We’ll burn it."

Two other artists are featured in 9 Mile Gallery, Mary Catherine Solberg and Drew Beson. The event, which is not ticketed, will be hosted between the fine art gallery and the lounge space.

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