Here are a few points to think about the next time you are asked to donate art.
Undervaluing Art Hurts the Community
Many artists struggle to make a profit each year, and although it might sound noble to give art away, sometimes it does the community of artists more harm than good. Fundraisers who ask numerous artists for outright donations devalue the worth of the art in that community. When there is no minimum (reserve) price set for a work, it often sells for less than the cost for materials. Even worse, the buyers return each year to pick up unbelievable bargains, and they rarely contact the artist to pay full retail price on additional paintings. This is the kind of “exposure” that actually hurts business for artists.
Educate the Organizations You Support
The folks that put on these fundraisers are not malicious people. They just don’t understand how selling donated art at low prices hurts the art community. Often, when I’ve explained why it isn’t a good idea, the people in charge decide to go with a reserve price and percentage to the artist. It might mean that fewer paintings will be sold (at least in the first year), but I’ve seen that organizations that do it right often reap much higher rewards over the years because the best artists in the community begin to participate, and the scene becomes a place to buy great work for a tad less than they would pay otherwise. Everybody wins! The artists get their due, the organizations get 40% of each sale, and the collectors get great art.
Interestingly, the local towns in New Hampshire that do auctions with a minimum bid and spilt the proceeds with the artist make far more than those who accept art pieces as full donations and sell the art for any price. Once an auction becomes known as the place to get great artwork, it brings out serious collectors. Usually there is a gala dinner involved where the tickets are pricey. I’ve seen expensive works (say in the $10K range) sell at these classy auctions. The best and most expensive art goes quickly. My guess is that the collectors there enjoy the competition.
Several years ago, I attended a huge show in Denver, Salon D’arts. While there, I ate breakfast with a number of artists who participated, and Scott Burdick listed his favorite fundraisers – most were invitational museum shows where the artist reaped a 75% of the selling price. Even so, the museums made a great deal of money.
The thing that I especially enjoy about participating in fundraisers that return me 60% of the selling price is that I usually pick up a new collector when my painting sells. Unlike most galleries, auctions give the artists the names and addresses of the buyers. When someone buys my work at, or near my regular retail price, they’re usually pretty serious collectors.
Artists Can Only Deduct The Cost of Materials
When I’ve participated in auctions where I’ve given a full donation, the work sells for under $100, and nobody wins because the artwork was devalued, the organization only got $100, and I am in the hole for all my supplies. By the way, we artists can only deduct the amount of the supplies we used on our incomes taxes—not the value of the artwork. Alternately, if I simply give the organization a check from my business account, I can deduct the full amount of that check. They make just as much money or even more that way, and I am not out a painting that I could sell otherwise.
What if the Work Doesn’t Sell?
If my painting doesn’t sell, then I get the painting back and I’m out nothing. Sure the organization doesn’t get anything from me, but it probably made more in the long run because it got a greater amount from the other artists whose works did sell. Nobody loses, and the integrity of the art community is not eroded.
From Sandra Wilderman, GVAL member