The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The Auctioneer

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Lucas Hunt of Hunt Auctioneers.
…watching money get donated is exciting; it’s like hearing champagne bottles open. It’s like, “Pop! Wow, she gave twenty thousand…Pop! He gave ten thousand!” It’s inspiring to be in the presence of that kind of magnanimity by people who can afford to and choose to be so generous.

Lucas Hunt is the president of Hunt Philanthropy and a celebrated American poet whose works include the books New YorkHamptons, and Iowa. Over the past decade, his auctioning has helped raise hundreds of millions for organizations like St. Jude, Make A Wish Foundation, the Museum of African American History, and the American Cancer Society.

Trained by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Lucas is a World Wide College of Auctioneering graduate and a Benefit Auction Specialist with the National Auctioneers Association. He and his wife live in the Financial District.


Paul & Vince: How did you come to be in New York City in your current career?

Lucas: I grew up in a small village of 200 people near Davenport, Iowa. I. I lived there until my early twenties when my best friend called me one day and said, “I’ve got an offer for you.” He wanted me to move to New York, Long Island, which was a life-changing moment. So…I went for it.

Paul & Vince: Wow, that was a major decision.

Lucas:  Yes, but I’m from Iowa…so I was always interested in spending time by the ocean…any ocean [Laughs]. Ultimately, I lived happily in the Hamptons for 14 years, writing poetry and working as a literary agent. It was beautiful! And then, one day, someone saw me doing a poetry reading, and they thought somehow that I would be good at running an auction for Southampton Hospital to raise money to fight cancer. Go figure! But…so, I did that and loved it.

Honestly, I thought that auction was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. For me, then and now, it’s kind of a poetry of numbers when you’re doing an auction, and the numbers go up. It’s a wonderful way to use language and communication skills to inspire their generosity. So, I just fell in love with doing that.


Paul & Vince: Interesting…so, what does a typical day on the job look like for you?

Lucas:  Ahhh…a typical day begins with meditation. I wouldn’t say I like to give away my mornings to the computer or the phone. I like to stay centered. I write in the mornings. Then by midday, I’m in meetings with clients or having consulting calls. I’ll talk to them about their needs, how many people they’re having at their event, and where the event is. I also visit schools, hospitals, and shelters to see the organizations’ work. I get increasingly busy as we enter spring and fall; those are the busiest fundraising seasons.

Paul & Vince: How do you prepare for an actual event?

Lucas:  If I have an event, I have to pick out a tuxedo first!  I have about a dozen in the closet. And so from 5-9 pm, I’m getting ready to go on stage, meeting with event planners and program directors, donors and stage managers…meeting everybody I work with at the organization. It’s a production.


Paul & Vince: Could you tell us something people don’t realize about your work?

Lucas:  Well, everybody thinks auctioneers talk fast, but that depends on the type of auction. If you’re at a cattle auction and have to sell 500 cows, yes, that will be a different pacing than at a fundraising gala. Art auctions can also be very transactional, but at the benefit auctions I do, bidding is in the sphere of what I call the “theater of giving”.…We’re all in a ballroom where it’s about, for example, the American Heart Society or Humane Society or the Bowery Mission overcoming homelessness. So, you need to bring in a theme and a powerful story, and then you get to work with the emotions. And you hope that people understand the story behind why it’s important to be supportive.

Paul & Vince: Wow, and is it true that in those cases, the donors are as crucial as the spectators in the “theater of giving” …because it’s also about being part of, maybe even showing off, as part of that story?

Lucas:  Absolutely! Watching money get donated is exciting; it’s like hearing champagne bottles open. [Laughs] It’s like, “Pop! Wow, she gave twenty thousand…Pop! He gave ten thousand!” It’s inspiring to be in the presence of that kind of magnanimity by people who can afford to and choose to be so generous.


Paul & Vince: Well, it’s clear, you know, make it all seem fun! Tell us about your favorite things you find fun to do in New York when you have time off.

Lucas:  Well, my wife and I live in the Financial District and it’s funny, but we do love the slow, winding pace of things down here. These days, we’re also wild about Pier 17. There’s a skating rink there, great restaurants, and a terrific view, all on the East River, which is basically a tidal estuary of the ocean. On weekends, I’ll take a jog here around the southern tip of Manhattan. The views are amazing, and it’s stunning in the morning sunlight.


…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Well, you know we love to hear anything about running [Laughs]. But now it’s time for our Just For Fun question. Ok. So, Lucas, what new invention have you been waiting to be put out into the world?

Lucas:  Hmmm… That’s interesting because I have often thought about a dream machine…and this machine allows you to project your dreams onto a screen so that all you need to do is imagine something, and it visually appears on a screen. It would allow people to share their dream with someone else and avoid the mess of language it takes to describe them. So, I’d tell my wife in the morning, “Look!” [Laughs]

Paul & Vince: Would any recurring images come up if you had this machine?

Lucas:  Actually, yes, I have this recurring dream of my hometown, where I grew up in Iowa. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like a pig-farming village, and in the dream, it’s in the middle of Manhattan! I know it’s an easy one for therapists [Laughs], but it’s like the Tower of Babel, where the town goes up into the sky… Or if you’ve ever seen a Grant Wood painting of Iowa with the hills and farms, it looks like that, but it’s oddly incorporated into the city.

Paul & Vince: It all sounds, in a way, poetic…could that be your next book?

Lucas:  Yes, until the dream machine is real, I need to write it down! [Laughs]

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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