The Art of Giving

Alicia Lew spent her 20th birthday giving someone else a gift.

On Feb. 14, Lew, a pre-med biology sophomore, presented Julie Johnson, Pharm. D, a check for $11,150 to be used toward Johnson’s research on cardiovascular pharmacogenomics.

Pharmacy Researcher Julie Johnson with Alicia Lew and her mother, June Lew, a Leesburg, Fla. pharmacist / Photo by Maria Farias

Lew raised the money through an art auction and wine pairing event she organized and held in her hometown of Leesburg, Fla., in January. About 150 people attended the event, and 48 pieces of artwork, including an original signed and numbered Salvador Dali lithograph, were sold through a live and silent auction.

“I had seen my community hold various fundraising events, but I had not heard of any related to the arts and medicine” Lew said. “We could expose them to the world of visual arts and raise money for a good cause.”

The daughter of a cardiologist and an avid artist, Lew created the art auction, called “Art for the Heart,” to blend her interests in the arts and cardiology to raise money for research. She originally intended to donate the money raised to a national organization, but chose instead to give the money to a UF professor.

“My primary reasoning for doing so is because I felt that guests could better relate to fundraising for a local research group,” Lew said. “The donation held a deeper meaning to me because I was able to meet with the researcher and know exactly what kind of research the money would be going toward.”

After researching various professors, she was directed to Johnson.

“She said, ‘I’m going to do this event and would you be willing to be the recipient?’ so we said ‘Of course,’” said Johnson, director at the UF Center for Pharmacogenomics and the Personalized Medicine Program at Shands. “This sounded like such a huge undertaking, so it was amazing and impressive what she was able to do.”

Lew said the idea for the auction came a year ago, but school and a serious athletic injury in the fall derailed her from planning the event.

“The injury held me off from getting things done for a while, and a lot of the organizational details happened weeks to months to the very last second of the event,” Lew said.

Local artists donated the artwork. The live auction began with a painting of a heart that was donated by a local photographer’s daughter whose brother has a heart condition, Lew said.

“One of the many things I really loved about organizing the event was that I had a really personal connection to every piece of art,” she said. “I went out and met with the artists and got to understand their inspiration and how their ideas came together.”

Lew’s favorite piece of artwork was her mom’s photograph of a mountain fox, which sold for more than $2,000.

“It was an amazing experience, and I hope to do it again soon,” Lew said.