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Compassion and benevolence are not words usually associated with broadcast advertising. But Steve Gordon, a television commercial director, bucks the image of grasping single-mindedness that colours the profession’s reputation. Three years ago Gordon, who has lived in Canada for 19 years, returned to his native South Africa and had an epiphany while touring townships hard hit by AIDS.

"It was so ripe and so beautiful and so sad that I left there with the idea I’m going to try and do something for these kids," Gordon said in a telephone interview.

A former fashion photographer who shot for British Vogue in the 1970s, Gordon, who has homes in Toronto and Vancouver, decided to approach some Toronto art galleries about putting on a benefit exhibit of his work with proceeds going to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. The response he received was shocking.

"They said ‘by all means use our gallery to sell your work, but we’re still going to take our commissions,’" Gordon said. "I just could not comprehend that people could behave like that."

On a trip to Vancouver Gordon received a more empathetic response from the Elliott Louis Gallery on 2 nd Avenue. Working with six volunteers Gordon is hosting a one-day exhibit and auction of his work and 30-plus photographers’ from around the world. Companies like Rethink and Mercer Advertising, Marc Anthony Wines and Vancouver’s Westin Grand have stepped up to the plate, donating services and beverages for the Aug. 24 event. Able Auctions will call the sale and Opus Hotels is dishing up catering. Opus Hotels’ Katrina Carroll-Foster said they get asked every day to donate cash or items but are selective about which charities they sponsor.

"If a client we have a good standing relationship with asks we’re more likely to hear them out but with the 16 th AIDS conference in Toronto (held Aug. 14-18) and the fact that one of our owners is involved with other AIDS-related charities, this is a good fit for us," she said.

Located in downtown Vancouver Opus also donates to street youth programs, volunteering soaps, shampoos, and towels.

"Being a leader in corporate philanthropy and showing some kind of leadership is important and certainly that’s something strongly supported by our owners," she said.

Organizing the fundraiser was an eye opener for Gordon. At one point trying to raise $6,000 to cover framing, shipping and insurance costs for 37 pieces of art donated by the photographers that include Annie Liebovitz, Nick Brandt and Vanity Fair shooter Jillian Edelstein, he was stonewalled by a group of Vancouver businessman. Suggesting to Gordon he could get more press coverage and a bigger turnout if he waited until next spring Gordon told the potential donors the show would go ahead as planned.

"I said I was not going to delay because while we’re sitting in this meeting a thousand people a day die in South Africa from AIDS and if you do the arithmetic it would work out to 240,000 people (if we waited until spring)."

Gordon donated the funds from his own savings.

Art for Aids Orphans hopes to raise $30,000 for the Mandela project, Goelama, to diminish the impact of HIV and AIDS on children and youth in South Africa, with an emphasis on assisting orphans.

Preview for works donated to the benefit is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24. Doors for the evening exhibit open at 6:30 p.m., auction begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; food, wine and African music to be had. Elliot Louis Gallery is in the Waterfall building, 1540 West 2 nd Avenue, Vancouver.