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Urban Wanderers 

When: Sat., June 23, 7-11 p.m. 2018
Price: free admission

Stray Rescue's annual arts-based fundraiser Urban Wanderers has become a summer tradition. The benefit consists of two parts. Step one, local artists make a piece in their chosen medium that is inspired by one of the animals Stray Rescue has saved from dangerous neglect, the streets and any number of bad situations. Step two, art-buying and animal-loving people show up and bid on the art, helping to further Stray Rescue's good works. Easy, peasy, puppy-pleasy.

But this year, there's a change to the tried-and-true formula. The show has moved from the Saint Louis University Museum of Art to the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. It turns out SLU's bicentennial celebration means its museum's doors are closed to outside groups for the year. But never fear: Natalie Thomson, Stray Rescue's marketing manager, says the organization just needed a space big enough to hold the throng that attends each year. The Four Seasons is just that, a good thing since this year looks to be a particularly big one — the auction includes more than 90 pieces of art.

"This is the most we've ever had," Thomson says. "Most of the artists did one piece, but we requested some of them do a couple. It's mostly paintings, but we also have some sculptures and mixed media, and a few photographers."

Some of the artists don't even see their animal subjects before beginning their piece.

"What we do is send them the animal's rescue story," explains Thomson. That includes how and where Stray Rescue found the animal, its condition at the time, its general temperament and often some basic medical facts about injuries or emotional states.

For a handful of the artists, that's enough to get started.

"Some of them don't want to see a photo," Thomson marvels. "They read that rescue story and create something about how they feel instead."

One of Urban Wanderers' traditional highlights in the past has been that a number of adoptable dogs come to the show for the opening. The Four Seasons has agreed to welcome one or two canine guests this year, but Thomson isn't sure if it will happen.

"We're still discussing it right now," she says. "We think we'll bring a dog that night. We're thinking about bringing Jumping Bean, whose story went viral. She's our most famous dog." Jumping Bean was discovered when a new homeowner called the rescue to say that a pit bull was chained up in the basement. Her story was picked up by more than 30 other organizations from the U.K. to Australia. Today, as her name suggests, she's a bundle of joyous energy.

Even if she doesn't show up, another special guest is scheduled to attend. Stray Rescue founder Randy Grim had a thoracic aortic aneurysm in February and has been recuperating for the past four months. If he does attend, this will be his first public appearance since his emergency surgery.

But if Grim doesn't make it, that doesn't excuse you. As Thomson notes, "It's free to get in, and there will be lots of free food. So bring friends and dress up fancy if you like. A lot of the art has starting bids under $100, and 100 percent of the proceeds go the medical fund." And hey, you might get to meet Jumping Bean as well.

Urban Wanderers takes place from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the Four Seasons Hotel (999 North Second Street; www.strayrescue.org/uw). Admission is free.

— Paul Friswold

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