For decades, most Hong Kong art auctions looked more or less the same: they were commercial events held in five-star hotels that catered to the rich. In the past few years, however, things have changed. The Hong Kong branches of Sotheby's and Christie's are dealing in more local, contemporary (and cheaper) works, with huge success. At the same time, local non-profit groups are increasingly using smaller-scale auctions to raise money and awareness. There is a new message being sent out to the art-buying public: that an experimental photo by a student is just as worthy of going under the hammer as a Qing dynasty jade. Art space Para/Site, whose works are so out they might as well be on the moon and not just in Sheung Wan, is the last group one would expect to hold a glitzy auction. Still, it had its first at One-fifth bar on Thursday. Starcrest, the hip wining, dining and residential area, might be in danger of morphing into an art space itself. Last year, it hosted the non-profit Sovereign Art Group's first art auction, raising $500,000 at Italian restaurant Cinecitta. Starcrest will be home to yet another local art charity auction on Wednesday, again at One-fifth, for the Philippe Charriol Foundation. The foundation has been supporting young Hong Kong and Macau artists since 1985, and usually holds its auctions at the Grand Hyatt, to coincide with its annual gala ball. Now, it's going down-market, with a party and auction called Raiders of the Lost Art. 'Of course, we didn't want to go too down-market, because people would start asking if something was wrong with us,' says the foundation's communications manager Albert Kwong Ka-fai. 'But we did want to do something more casual, more contemporary. We wanted to make it fun, to take art off its high pedestal. Many think art must be difficult and inaccessible. We want it to be part of people's daily lives.' Last year, the foundation's auction raised about $400,000, with 80 per cent of proceeds going to the foundation, and 20 per cent to the artists. This year, they will be auctioning paintings by the 21 semi-finalists of its 2004 competition, mostly emerging, lesser-known artists who need financial help. The artists to be featured at the November 29 Asia Art Archive auction at the China Club will be a different breed. All the works will have been donated by those financially successful enough to be able to afford to be so generous. All proceeds go to the Archive, the only research centre of its kind in the region. Participating are celebrity portrait artist Simon Birch, Jeffrey du Vallier d'Aragon Aranita, Konstantin Bessmerty, as well as the trust of the late Luis Chan, known by some as the father of modern Hong Kong painting. Backing them is a lineup of the city's most established galleries, such as Alice King's Alisan Fine Art, Johnson Chang's Hanart TZ Gallery, John Batten Gallery, and Schoeni Art Gallery, which is now being run by the late Manfred Schoeni'sdaughter, Nicole. Archive's founder Claire Hsu links the greater interest in these charity auctions with a larger trend in the Hong Kong market. 'This auction is a great opportunity for people to buy contemporary Asian art,' says Hsu. 'And there are bargains to be had.' For details go to www.para-site.org.hk , www.sovereignartfoundation.com , www.pcf.org.hk , or www.aaa.org.hk .