Monday, April 23, 2012

My Take On Donating Art

Last night was the yearly Celebration for Clemson Visual Art at Clemson University.  This event is a fund raising event for the building of a new visual art center.  Tom and I have contributed work for this event many times and this year was no exception.

I have heard more than one casual discussion of donating work and read more than one article on this topic.  Many artists are opposed to this practice as they feel it degrades the value of their work.  Artists are unable to deduct the actual "value" of the work as a gift on their taxes which they feel is unfair and  they feel buyers are only looking for a bargain.

The stated negatives may be true but I would like to present a different slant on the topic and share my experience with art donation and criteria for participating.

As to who I donate art, I take my cue from billionaire Warren Buffett who said something to the effect that he has only two rules to govern his success. First you never lose money.  Second, you never break rule number one.  Therefore my two rules are, I only donate work to organizations with whom I have a personal association.  Rule number two is I don't break rule number one.  I have been asked to donate to all sorts of things but I have favorites and they are the ones I support.  I do not have lots of cash to give but I can make something that will generate money for something that has been a central issue in my life....ART.

Last night my work was purchased by a couple who are deeply involved in art in many ways and who have supported my work for several years.  The winning bid was a very fair price and the work has gone to an environment where it will be enjoyed and well cared for.  Two years ago they had bid on one of my works which ultimately was won by another couple and this year they were determined to take the prize....MY Work!  

The couple who won the auction two year ago were at the event last night as well and they were excited to tell me how my work was being featured in the entrance of their home and how much they had enjoyed having this work.  I know for sure that everyone who enters that house sees my work and hears something of how it came to be there.  It's all good.

The planners of the CVA Celebration offer artists two ways to handle the income from the auction.  Artists can contribute 100% of the winning bid or receive a percentage of the price and contribute the remainder to them.  Artists can contribute 1-3 pieces and can choose differently for each piece.

So my thoughts on donating are, choose wisely as to who you donate, don't lowball yourself and if you do give, enjoy your ability to give.

Have a lovely week.

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  1. Terry,

    You have had positive experiences here.

    Many many auctions do not allow you to set a minimum bid so this is a very real concern.

    What are your thoughts on this - you state "don't low ball yourself" - I'm not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean setting an appropriate minimum bid?

    What if you aren't allowed to set a minimum bid - will you donate?

    My rules are

    1) I must be able to set a minimum bid and if the work doesn't sell they must return the art to me
    2) I must be allowed to receive a portion of the sales price back to me (creating a win-win situation).

    As a result I almost never donate my art as very few auctions fulfill these requirements.


  2. Hey Lisa! Thank you for writing. I thought of you as i wrote this because I have read some of your thoughts on the subject before.

    I think the main thing for me is that I believe in the organization who is sponsoring the auction AND that they do allow the artist to set the minimum bid OR the group presents a clear explaination of how the work will be sold. For example, I gave a piece to help Art Quilt Elements print a catalog this year. They had a set price for all work and a specific size for all the work. While I was not excited about their policy of no return of unsold work, I chose to participate because I had confidence my work would sell. (I wish the person who purchased that piece would contact me.)

    I have also supported the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center each year during the Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibition. This situation is a little different as tickets are sold and I believe there is a drawing to see who "wins" the work. I donate to this because the "museum" has been very supportive of my work and it is a small way to give back.

    I do not give to groups or organizations that don't have clear guidelines as to how the work will be handled or if I believe the work will not be presented in a professional manner. As to getting a percentage back from sales, I've given work 100% and I've given work where the sponsor gets a percentage and I get a percentage.

    I think it is a personal decision that has to be made each time I am asked. If I don't feel excited about participating I thank them but decline.

    Most of the works I have donated are small and if well placed, serve me better as a donation than just being in storage.

    Thanks again for writing!

  3. I was just at the Neuberger Museum, which is on the campus of State University of NY Purchase. They're doing a fundraising auction on the 28th. The works for the auction are posted in the cafe and include pieces by Barbara Kruger, Faith Ringgold, and Kiki Smith. If people of their stature are willing to contribute to a fund raiser, I hope that if my time ever comes, I can follow these (and your) good examples and set aside my sense of self-importance in favor of a good cause.

  4. I participated in a fundraising auction earlier this year, via my gallery. Work from 3 artists from the gallery was selected. We set the prices, which were the same prices as posted at the gallery. The organization hung all the work with prices and people could buy. The organization received 10%, the artist 90%. Since the opportunity was through my gallery, she took the 10% out of her commission cut and I would get my usual %. In addition, the organization selects a number of pieces that they put up for bid in a live auction. According to my gallery owner those pieces tend to go for well over the stated price, then the same commission split, so the artist does well.
    All that said, none of our work sold. Evidently it was slow sales all around, even among these well heeled patrons. Any unsold work goes back to the artist/gallery. Last year the gallery owner donated 4 pieces that all sold, one of them in the live auction.
    This is an organization that I have supported for years with $$ donations and also several years back, with a lot of my time. I think their method is perfect for everyone involved, which was the second reason I agreed to do it. If they approach us next year I would definitely agree to try again.

  5. Thank you Melanie and Martha for sharing your thoughts and experiences. As I said in my article, I think it all hinges on making good choices and giving when you feel its a good fit for you. I think it is important that the sponsors of the requesting organizations make it clear that their requests for art work ARE requests and there is no pressure, real or implied, to give work.

  6. My associations with people who earn their living through a skill or service allows them to donate a portion of income to worthy causes. In my case, my work is my asset, and donating allows me to give, where I would not be able to do a monetary contribution any other way. Giving always gives back. Believe me.

    1. Thank you Pat for sharing your experience. I agree with your statement about the power of giving.

  7. I have been on the fence about this issue and I'm glad you wrote about your personal policy. It is a fair assessment. I've not been approached for fundraising, but my husband has, and he, like you, has supported places that he believes in.
    I have a full-on weakness for good causes. Perhaps one day my artwork will be 'fundraiser-worthy' and bring big money for a non-profit. Thanks for sharing Terry.

    1. The core issue of donating is that the artists feel strongly about the organization making the request and know that they are free to decline with no hard feelings on the part of the group making the request. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts!