Dear Charleston Artists and Fundraising Committees,
Last year we opened a commercial art gallery to create positive partnerships with career artists and art collectors. Collectively, we have worked in the arts industry for over twenty-five years in both the non-profit as well as for-profit fields. Our finger is on the pulse of what visual artists need and desire to make their careers successful – this is a main focus of the work we do.
Most recently, we were contacted by Spoleto Festival USA who wanted to add several of the artists we represent to their annual auction roster. Our meeting was exciting and there was a twinkle of hope that this could be a great opportunity for us, as a new gallery, for the artists we work with, and for the Spoleto audience. But there is a problem…not just with Spoleto’s annual auction, but with many organizations who all too often perpetuate with their deep need for fundraising: 100% artwork donations from visual artists.
They’re all good causes: support for cultural institutions and festivals, college scholarship programs, AIDS research, breast cancer research. If there’s a need or an illness…organizations use visual art as a go-to for raising money. But this comes at a cost for the artists…who often receive promises of ‘exposure’ in return for their work. And the patrons most able to afford to buy artwork are getting it for a song. What’s wrong with this picture?
‘Exposure’ is usually the offering from the cause raising money, but is never realized. This is not an equal trade for the time, material costs, and the creativity artists pour into each of their works. Additionally, if the winning bidder later resells the work, the artist will not share in this profit either…another common opportunity lost. Managing these things successfully is part and parcel of an artist’s career. What does this do for the artwork’s value and provenance over time? Artwork is very personal and differs from other auction items like a week in Paris at a patron’s third home. This is an ‘expression’ – a moment from this person’s life and career.
For most, donating an auction item can be written off. Not for artists, who may only deduct the cost of materials – which they do anyway for their business of making and selling art.
In our most recent solicitation for free art, Spoleto Festival USA expressed they would not even offer an auction event ticket to the artist…again, how is this a fair exchange?
We have given this much thought and have come up with some easy tips that are mutually beneficial to both charity and artist.
For the Charity
Set an agreed upon minimum bid with the artist so the work is not devalued by the end sale price.
Give the artist 30-50% of the selling price.
Create a high quality catalogue for your event that can be distributed leading up to and during the night of your event.
Offer the artist a complimentary ticket to the event. Have a small capacity at your event venue? No problem, most artists are okay flying solo if this means they will have the opportunity to network.
Acknowledge the generosity and creativity of the participating artists year-round just as you may do for your sponsors.
Share the buyers information with the artist so they may create a truly beneficial relationship.
Don’t ask too often; fraction your request to the same artist over time.
*The Southern created a charitable donation request form on our website, yours to use freely to help aid in soliciting art donations.
For the Artist
Choose one or two charities per year that you personally care about and who agree to offer a share in the revenues of the sale. If all artists set this precedence, then the organizations will follow suit.
Donate a work you are most proud of instead of what hasn’t sold. Higher quality work = higher bids. Receiving a percentage from the sale will soften the blow of losing a piece you are most connected to. At the end of the day, you want to make a lasting impression on the patrons who attend the event so they may remember the quality of your work and continue to collect.
Ask about the overall presentation. Does this organization have an artist liaison for the event? Do they have art handling experience? Do they have insurance for your work? These are not out of bound questions to ask and is maybe an area you can offer assistance so that your work is seen in the best light possible…literally.
*The Southern created a charitable donation request form on our website, yours to use freely to help aid in fielding requests.
It is time we put an end to 100% artwork donations (for all artistic disciplines).
The potential outcome is a win-win for everyone. Better art to entice bidders, more money will be raised, and visual artists can also flourish. Patrons do in fact like to know their contribution will go far.
We know the folks that coordinate these fundraisers have great intentions and should be applauded for helping those in need. But we all need to understand how to truly support the visual arts, as well as the cause.
Erin and Justin Nathanson
The Southern, contemporary art gallery
*IMAGE: Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Sleeping Girl’ (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)