Environment: UC Green Uses Instagram as a Creative New Way to Help Raise Money for Tree Planting in West and Southwest Philadelphia

From Sept. 19 to Sept. 20, University City Green hosted the Arbor and Art charity auction on the Arbor and Art Instagram page. The bidding for the auction started at 10 a.m. on Sept. 19 and closed at 10 p.m. the same day. Winners were announced on Sept. 20. On Sept. 29, Arbor and Art hosted a second auction for items, and experiences were not bid on in the initial auction. The bidding closed and winners were announced on Sept. 30. 

The auction included dozens of items from local or former Philadelphia artists. The items and local experiences for auction were posted on Instagram with details in the caption, the retail cost, and the minimum bid. 

If someone were interested in what was being auctioned, the first bidder would comment at or over the minimum offer, and another bidder would have to bid $10 over the previous bid. Items that were not sold were put up for auction again on Sept. 29 with no minimum bid.

The mission of UC Green, which was formed in 1998, is to improve West and Southwest Philadelphia neighborhoods through greening the University City community. Money from the charity auction went to help support its ongoing mission. 

According to UC Green Executive Director Kiasha Huling, UC Green is responsible for street tree planting and maintenance, the stewardship of community gardens, and providing coordination and tools for volunteer block cleanups. These three general aims are achieved through community engagement throughout West and Southwest Philadelphia neighborhoods. 

This is the second year that UC Green held the Arbor and Art auction. Huling explained the idea of an online auction came from her friend when UC Green was unable to hold a traditional fall fundraiser last year. 

“I spent some time thinking about what platform we should use and how would I host an art auction,” Huling said. “Nicole, the auction manager, said just to host it on Instagram, that’s for visual content. So, we gave it a go. It was engaging a new audience, and it was confirmation that there is a social community on Instagram.”

Huling expressed her appreciativeness of the support shown for the Arbor and Arts auction and was surprised with the interactions of participants and artists with the Instagram auction over the past two years. 

“The artist community donates their creative works so generously, and then this year we included experiences as well,” Huling said. “I’m so equally heartened by this community of folks that donate, as well as the participants. It’s this round-robin of goodness.”

Items like a personalized painting of pets, plants, handmade jewelry, tours, and workshops were some of what was put up for auction on Arbor and Art. 

Philadelphia artist, Sadie Francis of Only in the Forest donated several original jewelry pieces to Arbor and Art. Francis works with nontoxic resin to preserve foraged pieces of nature. For Arbor and Art, she contributed two pendants with preserved knotgrass and different plants. 

One of Sadie Francis’s original jewelry pieces up for auction on the Arbor and Art Instagram page.

“When I started vending and interacting with people who may be interested in the pieces, they were like launchpads for conversations about nature in the city,” Francis explained. “I would love for the environment to stop being talked about its own separate subject matter when it really has intersectionality, especially in an urban area.” 

Francis is not only an environmental artist but also has a background in public health and environmental policy. She also works with bioPhilly, an organization that “promotes the important link between human health and the meaningful daily experience of wild and biodiverse nature in the city,” according to bioPhilly’s mission statement. 

Like those participating in the Arbor and Art auction, Francis donated her pieces to help UC Green’s mission. 

UC Green will use the funds to support its tree-planting efforts. Huling explained that UC Green wanted to create a reserved fund to address built-in environment issues. 

“The City of Philadelphia will not grant a permit if you have some barriers in planting a tree,” Huling explained. “So, for example, if you have an old tree stump in a tree pit, they won’t permit you for a tree until that stump has been removed. And there are costs associated with removing the stump.”

Cracked sidewalks can be another built-in issue. Home or property owners are responsible for those repair costs to get a tree planted on their property, something those on a fixed income or experiencing other financial stressors can be impacted by.” This fund will allow for us to come in, and in specific cases to be able to cover those costs or remedy those barriers so that more trees can be planted,” Huling said.

Donators and auction winners alike are happy to support UC Green in any way they can. 

Kim Jordan is the co-executive director of the Philadelphia Orchard Project and expressed the importance of supporting other like-minded organizations that are doing good work for the community. Jordan, also an auction winner, participated in last year’s Arbor and Art auction, winning a pair of earrings made from vintage tin. 

Saffron Creations handcrafted earrings up for auction on Arbor and Art.

“I saw no one had bid on these earrings, so I decided to, mainly because I’m running out of places to hang art and I have new kittens that would mess with plants,” Jordan said.

Huling estimated $4,500 was raised through auction bids and separate donations from the Arbor and Art auction, but the final total was not counted yet.

This year UC Green has planted 5,000 trees and will be hosting another tree planting on Nov. 20 to continue its street tree tally and plant 45 more trees in West Philadelphia. 

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com

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