...that laid the golden egg, that is. Do you think it is fair that artists are so often asked to send a painting (preferably framed) or another piece of art to some development director or fundraiser to support some worthy cause or another? Of course we want to "support the arts"...we ARE "the arts", or certainly part of the whole scene. However, if art isn't being purchased, who is supporting me and the "art" that I work in? Who is supporting the galleries that promote our work? Who is maintaining the value that we have all worked so hard to earn?
We try to be generous people, but I am asking all of you in the art world to consider the serious ramifications. Like me, you are probably finding that many, many times a year you am getting requests to donate an art piece to be auctioned off to make money for a charity. The person making the request is naively sure that it is a win-win situation, because "people will see your work" and surely "you would want to support the arts" or some other "very good cause." I did, in fact, donate the painting shown above to a charity I am deeply involved with, and the money raised is usually very close to the value of the work donated.
It is not impossible to raise money for charities without skewering the artists, who are generally pretty soft touches, myself included. Here are a couple of ways I can think of:
A few years ago my husband and I established an Art Show for Children's Charities. Many artists from across the United States were personally and carefully invited to participate in this two-day event, talented newcomers all the way up to nationally-known art celebrities. Each painting was priced at that artist's "going rate," and 25% of any sale went to the charity, the balance well-earned by the artist. We sold a lot of paintings and were able to write large checks to the charities being supported. It was a beautiful show, good for the artists and great for the children. We did this two years in a row, until the economy began to flounder and art sales dropped altogether.
So, granted, art shows are more difficult to produce right now, since many art patrons are holding back on making purchases. However, bidders on art pieces are paying mere pennies on the dollar for the paintings in the auctions! They are getting a bargain, but the galleries are getting undercut and it is an unfair situation for the artists who have worked hard to earn their prices and the collectors that have paid full price in the past.
I think there is still a way to raise money while protecting and supporting the artists whose work is being sold. It does, however, take more work on the part of the fundraisers. Easier to just ask everyone to cough up a work of art gratis so the charity can just get what they can for it, even if it sells for much less than the established value of that work of art. It is certainly not fair to the artists or the galleries that beautifully hang their work on their walls, pay for lighting, rent, heating and cooling, advertising. The fundraising entity just has to gather the art, display the pieces for a limited amount of time, and sell to the highest bidder - and the bid is almost always well below the market value - a lot more. Bidders know they are getting a bargain, and I have personally heard one of them say she waits for these auctions so she can get art "dirt cheap."
This just seems wrong to me. I was asked by a very nice person wanting to hold an art auction for charity what the artists would agree to as a fair method to do this. I polled a lot of my artist friends, and we came up with the following suggestions: set a base price amount of, say, 40% of the established value of the painting donated, and this would reimburse the artist (supporting the "arts", remember?); anything raised above that amount would go to the charity. This would help to support the artist, keep the paintings from being undervalued, thus protecting the collectors and the galleries, and still raise money for the charity. More work would be involved on the part of the fundraising entity, but remember how much work the artists have already put in as well as the galleries that represent them and the collectors who don't want to see the work they have previously purchased become undervalued!
Of course, it would also help if the artists could write off on their taxes more than just the cost of the materials used to produce the work of art, but that's an argument for another day. And, preferably by someone else who knows more about tax writeoffs and so forth. I would be very interested to hear from others regarding art auctions for charity. Bottom line, I don't think it is necessary to hurt the artists to help the charity. Let's find a way to support the artists and the galleries at the same time as we support the charities. There has got to be a better way to be a caring part of the community we live in without. And the goose can survive!