Saturday, November 3, 2007

Oh, Auctions

I am a pretty slow painter, so over the years auction requests have dropped off. I should back up a bit. Most artists who have some sort of public profile are asked to donate their art to auctions of all sorts. From local hospital auxiliaries to Amnesty International. Most all are worthy and some would suggest a symptom of cuts in social spending of all sorts. Some artists I know are asked up to 50 times a year to donate original work.

I am going to try and outline what to keep in mind if you are interested in raising money with artists as one of your revenue streams. I am only speaking for myself and support any artist that wants to participate, without qualification, in projects that they feel committed to.

From what I can tell the average income for Canadian visual artists seems to be somewhere under $20,000. It is often touted that artists get a receipt for the donation that they make, but my understanding is that Revenue Canada says that I f you want to give away $1000 worth of art you must first declare that as income. So you get a tax receipt for $1000 donation, as well as having to declare income of that amount. (I am not completely clear about all this and you can look here for even more confusing info.

So the work needs to be framed? Shipped? Photographed? All of these are expenses that artists may be out of pocket for in real cash terms, on top of the time spent producing the art work.

In a perfect world I would ask those wanting to use artists as part of their fund raising efforts to try the following.

1. See if you can secure a deal with a large framing company to frame all work for the artists. You may be able to get this service donated or at a reduced cost.

2. Try to offer a shipping or pickup service for the art.

3. Try to include all biographical, web links, and contact info. that the artists would like. Part of the persuasion for donating is that you will get "great exposure" so make sure this is in place so clients can easily find artists after the event.

4. What type of auction is it?
Silent auctions are not great for an artist's career, or work value. These are often places to get good cheap deals. This is ok for the ski lift tickets and hotel packages but not for an artist’s career.

"Backwards Auctions" are a bit of a nightmare as well. This is where the auctioneer starts at a high price and counts down. The first person to speak up gets the work at that price.

A good auctioneer makes a huge difference. Many people can now go to a fund raising auction and get a "deal" on art work, and never enter an art gallery to buy work. An auctioneer can help to keep the prices up, which is good for the artists career. It is trouble if, either the painting has no reserve price and the piece goes for way under retail, or if it doesn't make the reserve and is withdrawn. Both are hard on an artist’s career.

5. Lastly I would suggest that all organizations insist on giving the artist 40% of the value the piece goes for. Most artists will offer to donate back this amount (partially out of embarrassment and even though they may need the money). The artist can always write a cheque after the fact if they wish to donate more.

All this sets up a better relationship between artists and organizations that rely on them for fund raising. Almost all professional artists I know are very generous and socially involved people. Charitable organizations should have a vested interest in an artists careers. There may be a little less money in their coffers in the short term, but in the long term helping artists to maintain healthy careers will be good for all. And lastly treat artists with dignity and respect, learn their names, get to know their work. Treat artists like you would any other professional in the arts that might be helping your organization such as actors, musicians, writers. We all put part of our selves out there for scrutiny. The donated coffee gift certificates and paintings do not come from the same place.

I think I have blathered enough for the moment. I am naturally a bit of a muckraker. Being provocative is good for dialogue.


Nancy Lowery said...

Just so you know someone is reading your blog. Very worthy comments for consideration that should be published elsewhere! I've sat through enough fund raising ideas and it's true artists are the bread and butter of that genre often getting little to no recognition as a result of their contributions. I'll make note of that for the next "silent" auction it is suggested for and point people to your blog.

lala and gleen said...


Thank you for your words of wisdom and inspiration. I have had many conversations with artists regarding this very thing, and it is always encouraging to hear artists of all talents, mediums and communities create discourse around this very topic!!