Monday, October 18, 2010

Artwork and Donations Part Deux

I had a friend call me all riled up, as we say in Texas, about an organization using artists for donations. From what I gathered they were promoting the event all over, and the artists names that had donated works were not mentioned anywhere. Another problem she saw, was the fact that artwork was starting out at bids of $20. Where is the advocacy, she asked me-- don't they know artists have to make a living...

I see this ALL the time. A non for profit will ask artists to donate to causes, give no name recognition and on top of that, most take 100% for the charity.  These same organizations will usually never be interested in the artist otherwise-- as to say no one in that said organization ever buys original artwork.

So how did this exploitation proliferate to such a high level? There are lots of factors. One being that artists ARE in fact starved for money, for recognition, for everything. They are willing to give for nothing. Second, there is still little value by society placed on artwork. When a regular business donates to a charity, you can bet your ass their name will appear in all the print among other places.

Why do artists tolerate this? What are your thoughts on the issue... Have you been in this situation before?


Here are some responses that came via email:

Sonia, thank you for your comment. I want to know why artists always need to donate?? We had a studio tour this weekend. A kid and his mother blind sided me when I had a crowd around explaining my art for a donation to his school for "special" children and could I donate. Rather than look like I scrooge (which is exactly how I feel) I did. I happen to know the kid's school is private and about $25,000 a year in tuition. I'm still pissed I didn't tell the kid to contact me later, this wasn't the time, but I didn't think fast enough. Thanks for letting me vent. 
Why Artists? -- How often do plumbers or doctors donate? They will bill you after you are dead ;-) -- true story!!! 
I spent 10 years teaching, and running, a community college art program in Illinois and I would regularly get calls asking student or faculty to donate their work and time. Every request always included comments on how good it would be for the reputation/career of those making the donation. I would then ask a series of questions that would require the person making the request to be specific as to what those benefits might include. This would lead that person to the realization that they knew nothing about what it takes to build a reputation/career in the arts. I would then ask them if any attorneys, bankers, doctors or dentists would be contributing their services to charity. This would cause them to realize that there would be no benefit to those professionals or to the individual artists making such contributions. I would then suggest that a more reasonable fund raising ideas might include:

1.) An auction in which contributors would bid on a percentage discount, of artist's work being purchased, for a limited period of time. This could be done showing examples of work by various artists. The organization hosting the event would receive the bids for the discounts only and none of the fees for the actual sale of the art.

2.) An auction of art works in which bidders would pay a bid fee, which would be their charitable contribution while the bids on the art would go to the artists.

3.) The sponsoring organization receiving artist's donations, would provide an appropriate exhibition and sales venue in which contributing artists could exhibit their work publicly, at a later date, with no sales percentage being taken at that time.

4.) Bidders would bid on the talents of various artist's to create commissions specifically for their home or business. The initial bids would go to charity but the artists would be paid for the works they create.

After several years of doing this, I found that requests for no-strings free contributions dropped off considerably and that those making such requests were usually be more thoughtful and deliberate. This would often create more opportunities for artists and a growing realization that artists are also professionals.


  1. I have donated to charity one time, and received no thanks and no recognition, I will not be doing it again, we can't even claim our donation on our taxes like anyone else who donates a service. We have to value ourselves in order to be valued in the world. If we do it for nothing they will keep expecting us to do it for nothing in the future.

  2. I actually don't tolerate it. Working with a large number of non-profits and also using artists all over the world to raise awareness through their crafts for humanitarian causes I try to educate non-profits on how to use artists and their work to promote their cause etc. We always give the artists a major % of the sale when doing a fundraiser and try to find other ways to bring in money for a cause. We "artists" are to often taken advantage of in the non-profit fundraising realm. People take advantage because they believe it is so easy for us to create a piece because it is what we do, and are not educated on the fact that this is our livelihood etc. We use the artists and their work to promote our cause and fully promote and connect our artists to the public as well as the non-profit. Educate..we need to educate...

  3. I think it is ok for the casual artist that paints strictly for a past time. But Art is a career not missionary work . Is is more then ok to not receive money, glory or fame for a donation . But it is disrespectful in any industry to not give credit where credit is due, I have never seen this behavior but find it unethical. as to the pricing, as a donation you are giving the art for the charity do do as they please. Its possible they give it to a terminally ill person to cheer up their remaining days on this earth. but to start with a price point on bidding as low as $20 dollars only cheapens the event and the board of directors that produced the event. It may happen once but most dont want that kind of affiliation

  4. I've donated artwork to charity auctions but I insist that the Charity sets the opening bid at what I value the work at. If the reserve price is not met I take home the art work. It doesn't make sense to both give your work away and lessen the value of your work (and if I'm not mistaken you only get the tax write off for what the art sold for not what it was valued at)

  5. Nodding 'yes, exactly' as I read the comments previously posted. I did this once... never again. I now advise... a) limit participation to causes you strongly advocate, yourself... b) offer to donate 20% of the sale of the art piece... c) be explicit in your sponsorship requirements, for you are indeed a sponsor of the event...1. If art is for a live or silent auction, minimum bid must start at no less than 50% of the full value of the artwork...2. your name, website, etc in any form of advertising (print, online, tv etc) should mirror promotional visibility of other sponsors donating same value as 20% of your work's full value (it is up to the event production team to get the most out of your donation by getting the highest price they can for your work).

  6. As a fundraiser for a non-profit organization, I question the motives of the solicitor in asking for your art work without any recognition given. It does the non-profit a disservice to not advertise the artists participating. Also, you should receive a gift in-kind receipt that per IRS regulations should state something like "value to be determined by donor." The organization is not allowed to give you a reciept for the estimated value, but you can claim whatever you feel is reasonable on your taxes as a donation.

  7. On a Side not Artists can not write off the donation. They are only allowed to write of the cost of materials. That means if a pieces sells for $3500 at auction and the materials were $50 then you get to write off $50. I don't know why it is like this-- but it is just they way it is.

  8. I've donated to charity once. I, though, had the fortune of being thanked multiple times. Plus, it was just a small 4x4 painting on Bristol anyhow. Had I not been thanked, allowed recognition, or anything like that, I imagine that there would be a more sour taste in my mouth.

  9. Seems like there are some bitter opinions and misconceptions out there. As someone who has been procuring art donations for charities for many years, I'm truly sorry for the artists who feel like they got screwed by their act of kindness.

    briannolan is correct in that an artist should ask for an minimum bid; however, the tax deduction is the appraised Fair Market Value with documentation supporting that value being required for claimed deductions of $5000 or more (and I think you have to have the piece in your possession for 12 months prior to the donation). So if your painting only sells for $20, you can still claim $4999 on your taxes without a written appraisal. With the individual standardized deduction this year at $5700, chances are pretty good the artist benefits for the donation.... Ssemone see IRS Publication 561.

    The goal is to raise money for the charity so they don't want anything selling for $20. A well-run charity will want to be able to make an educated guess on how much will be raised in ticket sales and in auction sales so they want realistic opening bids on established artists.

    As for the name recognition comments, no charity sells art without disclosing the name of the artist. This is the best target market an artist can reach: one that has enough money to pay for a ticket to an event that has art. Often these events have booze so these folks with money like to impress their friends by spending money in front of them. Watch the disparity between sales at the beginning of the event and at the end of the event. (This is why it's illegal to serve alcohol at auctions in NY...) If the artist truly believes in the charity, he/she should be promoting the event too and encouraging friends to bid on the art not bashing past events because art sold below value or because the charity didn't single out the artist in its promotion.

  10. Douglas

    Thank you for your input. Artists do not get to write off the value of their art. A collector may write of a value they paid for a piece if they have had it in their possession for at least 12 months but artists can not. They can only write off the price of the canvas.

    As for recognition, sadly a lot of charities do not promote artists.

    I have donated MANY MANY MANY pieces of artwork to charity. I cant count the number, and it has done nothing for me as an artist.

    I gave because I wanted to, so that is all that mattered. But I do feel there is a total lack of respect for artists that donate works.

  11. i've given 2 paintings to the Dallas Contemporary for their auction benefit / 1 to the Modern / and i do 5 x 7's for Arthouse all the time :-)

  12. Hmmm... I stand corrected. I had heard someone else say something about the materials, but I thought that was recently changed. Odd the IRS publication does not clarify the donation cannot be made by the artist....

    It looks like there is a bill (HR 1126 being pushed called the “Artist-Museum Partnership Act” to change the tax code. It's currently got 93 co-sponsors and lots of support from some very influential organizations. One more thing to write your Congressman about...

    Are there particular organizations you've had positive or negative experiences with? I'm on several boards and committees (including the Contemporary so thanks Nick!), and I know we value feedback almost as much as the donations...

  13. I've been organizing a show called COLLISION for years and we benefit Arts Fighting Cancer of Dallas. the Artists names had the majority of the real estate on all printed material and the show was about the artists. At our last event we had a 20/80 split with the artists and they got the 80%. It's the only way to do it really. It's a, we scratch your back and you scratch ours, situation. Charities should never partake in one-way scratchings. They should know better especially when dealing with low income professions.

    I'm an artist as well and I have donated many pieces of work that I'll never see a dollar for and most of the time I'm OK with that. It really depends on the charity. I find the link between charity and art as beautiful symbiosis and if done right it can really be mutually beneficial.

    Things a charity should consider before engaging in this type of relationship: 1. The phrase, "It'll help get your name out there!" is overused and I want to roll my eyes every time I hear it. 2. If you do use that phrase you better work like hell to really get their names out there. 3. Make sure the artist get's a portion of the sale. It's ridiculous to ask people from low income jobs to practically finance your fancy little event and not kick them something for all their work. We don't ask this of any other low income group so why ask artists. 4. Give your artists recognition at the event. This goes a long way to help boost moral. 5. A few donations from big businesses could be used as gifts for the artists generosity. Gift certificates for food always ring out to a starving artist. 6. If you get donations from artists for your event, you better get your ass to one of their next art shows and it wouldn't hurt to buy some art. This cements the relationship. Your artists will return again and again if you promote, attend and take part in their events as well.

    These should help any organization who wants to create a charity event and do it right. The percentage of the sale is a tough one but one I believe in. There are a few exceptions. Art Conspiracy and Art of the Skateboard are huge and they really do get the artists name out there. The attendance is such that you can't say no and they always create the most amazing art events in the land. I'm especially looking forward to Art Con this weekend.

    Here's something that I think is even worse. Art Galleries taking 50% and doing very little for that percentage. Too many galleries don't even send out a press release for their shows. They make a post on facebook and call it done. I think there are a lot of folks out there taking advantage of artists and not enough people out there buying art.


    Clint Scism

  14. what about donating your talents for good causes? isn't that enough? i would hope so - i hope that artists would donate for the sake of helping & not for the sake of recognition or prosperity. commercial art is for making money. donating to charity is about philanthropy and love as well as sharing with those who have less than you, i wish others could see it this way. we are fortunate to be able to donate to those who are in need of any charity's help.

  15. As in anything in life there are varying degrees of behaviors among organizations. There are international, countrywide, regional and local organizations. And some that have been around for decades and some that just started in the past few years.
    Generally Large organizations that have been around awhile are less likely to abuse donors and usually have a bigger list of qualified donors to support their charity auctions and have the resources to be professionally run.
    Small local groups may not have a decent sized mailing list of donors. And the donors they do have may donate in smaller dollar amounts. Find out what the charity auctions had as their winning bids, were most under $100? Did they have any winning bids over $500, $1000? ask.
    If you want to see how you will be treated as an artist by a group, attend a few of their charity events and try to contact past businesses and others who have donated and ask about the experience. Also find out how they promoted the event, did they use the radio, tv, print, internet?
    If you don't know anything about them attend the event, if you like what you see, tell them to put you on the mailing list for next year or next event they do!

  16. I read the previous comments and I cannot say I agree. Being an artist since before I had a concept of money ( small child before gradeschool even ) I feel that I have sustained a view on art that I continue to hold today. I feel that it's part of the comment snippet "we must educate", as well as some other points made. Most teachers are not highly paid considering the priceless value they may pass on in knowledge or paradigm shift. In the same concept, agreeing that in one of many of it's senses art is an educational tool, I feel that all art when done from the heart or unconscious mind is truly priceless. Why then try to put a value assigned to it? And when you were young and did art think about how you felt then; most of us just wanted to share it, not necessarily for attention but to share the joy we got from seeing our creation with others. Spreading the love and joy is what I see as the main point of art. I have throughout my short life as an artist being only 21 and started at about the age of 4, have done in the same sense of these donation stories. Given away art, to friends and family. In one case I even had a friend take my art and then tell people for many years that he did it, me not being around. I met him again some years after giving him a large portfolio of pictures that he still has, and he told me that story. I did not feel upset. This is a long winded comment but basically my point is, as one also said, yes it is ok to receive money for artwork if someone insists on paying you. Yet, I do not feel this should be the main focus for it takes away from it all. Fame and money are concepts that are machined into our brains by society, they are not inherent in what it is to be human.

    To put my point of view into further confirmation, think of buddhist monks. Many of you being artists have surely known or heard at some point, perhaps even seen, a group of usually 4 monks create these large, elaborate, beautiful, intricate mandalas out of colored sand. During the entire process they are meditating, from things ranging to global peace, or love for all, etc. Positive things. At the end of their meditation and the completion of the mandala, the sand is ritually poured/swept/dropped into a nearby river or body of water so the blessing can fully take place. They do not concern themselves with who is aware they made it, and many times will even do it in seclusion of the presence of others than those doing the mandala. They never do them for money.

    My 2 cents

  17. I'll donate anytime any place. I don't care... I've too much shit piling up in the corners of my house anyways. I believe in giving to give, because I can, and not in the desire for something in return.

  18. I see both sides of this issue.My painting teacher at SMU told us not to give away paintings because it reduces the number of people who will buy from you and your galleries. I have given paintings to charities for decades and I feel good about the people I have helped. In this economy the only way I can help the homeless or battered women etc. is by painting something that will bring money to these charities. I always make sure there is advertising and the painting will be shown at the Ball. My most recent donation was auctioned yesterday, hope it brought a lot! I used a painting from the same series that I use for my facebook profile so my name recognition could be linked to my style recognition, which are both important to the gallery owners who will show our work. People love to see a painting and say "Oh that's, a Judith Seay" or whoever the artist is. There are so many artists donating paintings now that we are watering down our buyer pool. Stephen Wilder was right. However, the work we do now will pay off when the economy returns, hopefully! Stephen also said "Just get people talking about you, good or bad, just get them talking" but, that's another issue. Judith Seay

  19. I'm not a monk or a philanthropist. I'm an artist and I do this as you sell insurance or collect garbage or run a retail store and yet charities have made it a habit of asking artists to donate. I find the partnership to be a perfect match and I gladly donate when I can which is often. I do however harbor the belief that no one profession should be looked as a bank or pot of gold even if it's for charity. Asking for art donations has become a business model. If somebody asked you to work for free over and over and over again with little to no recognition then you might not be so brave and giving with your time and talent. I don't always look for a percentage when I donate but the shows I organize for charity do pay out to artists and it's made the relationship more sustainable. For those past few comments: You guys must just be better than me. It's sounded a bit high and mighty for the past few posts.

    Clint Scism

  20. Dickyvantastic excluded. You rock, sir.


  21. I think dicky's statement sums up my long winded response

    was in no way trying to sound high and mighty or holier than thou

    just not good at finite expression :D

  22. i know it's awful..Unfortunately make a living as an artist is very challenging..people do get desperate for something to happen....i think it's up to as as artists to ask for respect and recognition....I don't know what else....

  23. I think you're referring to the Artist Conspiracy hosted by the non-profit organization started by Sarah Jane Semrad. I think that framing this issue in this way is really the wrong angle. Being an artist and having been involved in this event was amazing. It brings community and people out in a way that really engages people in a new way. Also, it educates people about buying art. Those people who buy $20 to $40 art pieces will be the ones who may buy $200 or maybe more valuable pieces later. It gives emerging artists a chance to see how they are received. Also, the event is about bringing community together, rather than just about artists who have a chance to be seen.

  24. So... Sarah Jane here. Co-Founder of Art Conspiracy. Art Cons asks artists for time - we provide the substrate, the studio space and the opportunity to network at an unprecedented level. We don't ask for expensive unsold inventory. We ask artists to step up and try something new, on the fly, bring their A game and MAKE something on site, the day before the actual event. Artists love it. The crowd loves it. And because it's for charity, the average price per piece after it's all over is around $110 per piece. Not bad for an 18x18 piece of plywood. We list all artists names both in a physical program, on the web and in a mobile program. The people running the show from behind the scenes are all artists. It's artists who decide who we give our money to. It's about empowering artists with massive say in philanthropic gifts BACK into the art and music nonprofit sector. It's highly anticipated. We have raised over $80,000 and reinvested it back into our own community. We are not your average art auction. at all. Check it out:

  25. Actually I have been given a tax statement for every even I have ever donated to. I never thought of writing off the materials as well. That alone buys me enough to create at least three pieces for the one I painted.(I hate the wasteful taxman)
    I have never not been recognized or felt exploited. All of that said, Nobody really knows who I am. Most of my work comes through word of mouth which stems from these events.
    I think art contributes to karma.

  26. Thank you all for your replies. This article was not about a specific event-- rather more of a broad look at donations by artists in general.

    As for the 18 x 18 piece of plywood-- it ceases to be plywood once an artist touches it. $110 dollars for wood may be a fetching price, but it is a different entity once it is artwork.

    I am glad for artists giving back to the community, as well as non profits. I do however think sometimes artists get the short end of the stick, and their best interests may be looked over.

    With that said the main thing is to raise awareness and start a dialog where artists and charities can work together, where all parties are feel equally appreciated.

  27. "We list all artists names both in a physical program, on the web and in a mobile program. "

    Well, I searched and other then the musicians and stage designer I see no artists listed. I would think at least have a page with links to artists sites.

    And, Gidget, You can ONLY write of materials nothing else.

  28. "We must educate"? What the hell does that mean? If I was an artist and trying to make make a living by doing what I love, how is it now my responsibility to educate?

    "...yes it is ok to receive money for artwork if someone insists on paying you"? In what bizarre alternate universe do you live? My plumber loves his job. He derives joy from fixing things that are broken. So that's what he learned to do. He spent years perfecting his skill so that he could come spend hours on my house for my benefit. But I guess he shouldn't get paid unless I insist that he take some money?

    Please find me a house in Monk-land, because I want to live there. (but I will commute and actually make a living by working in some other town)

    I realize you're only 21, but we live in a world where there is rent, car repairs and doctor bills. My artist friends spend hours and hours of their time improving their skills and building a body of work. If they only paint for the joy it brings, they'll be too tired after their jobs to produce their brilliant works. Some might not even continue. Then, we as a society lose the inspiration they bring.

  29. i think the challenge to listing artists on the art con site is that it's a completely interactive process. artist's who want to get involved sign up in advance but they might not actually show up to make the art. the only way to show a list of the artists would be after the event. it's a good point though. i'm sure art con wouldn't mind promoting the artists who get involved by giving them a chance for promotion through their website.