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Attendees view art that will be auctioned off during Art With Heart, hosted by Casey House on Oct. 3. This will be the 30th year for the event which helps those living with or at risk of HIV.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Stephen Ranger and other volunteers at Toronto’s Casey House

The pitch: Raising nearly $15-million and climbing

A few years after Casey House opened in 1988 as Canada’s first treatment facility for people living with HIV/AIDS, Toronto art dealer Paul Conway and realtor Richard Silver came up with an idea for a fundraising event.

The pair reached out to various art galleries across the city and put together an auction called Art With Heart. They also asked Stephen Ranger, a long-time art auctioneer, to take part. Mr. Ranger agreed and the evening was unlike anything he’d experienced.

“It started off as kind of a real, what I would call, rambunctious, drunken affair,” he recalled with a laugh. “Where I came from in the art auction business, art auctions were pretty staid kind of formal, conservative events.”

Art With Heart caught on and became an annual fixture. Since the first auction in 1993, the event has raised more than $15-million for Casey House. “It has gone through all kinds of changes and permutations, but it’s actually grown and flourished which, for a charitable art event, is rare,” he said.

Mr. Ranger has left the art business but he has continued to serve as a volunteer auctioneer. He’s also on the board of Casey House. He oversaw the 30th auction on Oct. 3 which featured 90 works by a wide range of Canadian artists including Douglas Coupland and emerging talents such as Ooloosie Saila, and Katherine Takpannie. The evening raised just over $1-million for the centre.

Mr. Ranger said like the auction, Casey House has changed over the years and in addition to caring for people living with HIV, it also helps the most marginalized in society through an outpatient program that serves around 250 people a week. “We treat the whole person, we don’t just treat the disease,” he added.

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