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Donating your artwork

This is the season when we artists get those emails and calls to donate artwork for some great (and not so worthy) charitable events. Lately it seems like that we have been hit up more than usual, and the bad economy probably has something to do with that.

Last year I donated 6 pieces of art to various charitable auctions. In my opinion, all of the charities were worthy, and there was never a question that I wanted to help out. But, lately I have had my doubts about how I want to donate my art.

In order for artists to be given more respect in our community, we have to be a little more careful and selective of donating to any cause… even worthy ones.

Phoenix (and other cities as well) has become a very cheap place for art. The amount of silent and live auctions is incredible. The quantity of art at these auction has become expected, and an easy source for money. I have seen $1000 pieces sell for $150. That is a slap in the face to the artist, and doesn’t really help the charity very much. It especially does not help the art community. As I have seen at these events, bidders wait to make a bid at the last few minutes of the auction. And, at live auctions, I’ve noticed that the opening price is lower than the auction house wants to start with. These are auctions for worthwhile charities! I think sometimes the buyers forget that the money is a donation, and not a bargain bin.

Charitable events are now expecting more art pieces to auction because of the low expectations on prices, so nobody wins except the art buyer. Good galleries also suffer, because we have allowed our prices to be so low. It is not a path that we should encourage.

Of course we, and everyone should donate when we can, but we artists have to have some say in the events that are planned. Artists have more power and sway than we know. After all, some of best charitable events in the city need artists to participate.

So the following are a few suggestions, some recommendations and considerations before donating artwork:

— Do your research on the organization. Make sure it is reputable, and ask questions. Make sure that the organization has an art related cause. It does you, or the organization no good if non-art lovers are the main audience. They may not appreciate the value of artwork.

—I think that artists have become tired of being told that it is a write off for us. An artist can only legally write off the cost of our supplies to make the piece. Artists are also told that a lot of high profile art buyers will see our piece, and may want to buy something from us later. Maybe, but don’t count on that to happen. Your work will get much better exposure, and taken more seriously at a legitimate show. So, before donating, remember that you cannot write off the full value of the piece, or even the price that the piece is sold for.

–When donating, demand a minimum opening bid if possible. For example, if your piece is worth $500, tell the charity that your piece must open at $330, $350, or a percentage that you agree on. Put it in writing, or they may blame it on someone at the auction house, or intern, etc. If your piece does not end of selling for a decent and fair price, your pricing for your artwork may become devalued over the long run.

—Be leery of blanketed emails. I don’t know about you, but I think is rude, and if a charity really wants, and respects your work, a written invitation, or phone call shows more respect. An email that is just sent from an organization to dozens or even hundreds of artists is not one that respects quality, may not have an understanding and value of art, and is settling for quantity.

—Don’t forget to get a receipt for your donated art.

—Find out if your art is insured in case of accidents, or if it is lost, etc.

—Ask what kind of promotion for the event will have. It would be bad to be at an event that does not promote it’s cause.

—Find out how your artwork is presented. They should have your name, the work’s information, contact information for the artist.

—Find out what pricing is historically good for sales. If it is an established event, a general rule for a good price point at past auctions is known. For example, if pieces have sold for 50-100 dollars, it is not wise to send over a piece worth $300.

—Request to be invited to the event. Sometimes the artists are not invited, but it won’t hurt to ask. It is the least they can do for you. An artist can really help the sale of their work if they are there to talk with potential bidders. You may not want to donate to a group that does not give you a little in return.

—You don’t have to donate to every worthwhile organization. It is nice that you want to, but your art is valuable, and if you really want to donate to a good cause, sometimes it is better to sell a piece of your own, and donate the cash.

Basically, ask as many questions as you can. Don’t be shy. Many of the people that will ask for your donations are volunteers, and may not know about art, pricing, or details of the event. If you are not satisfied with the answers, ask to speak to a chair, or someone who can answer those questions. Your art has power, and can help a cause, but remember to think about how your art is presented, displayed, and promoted. This is your livelihood, so don’t feel guilty if you decide to be judicious with your donations.



  1. sarah kriehn (Reply) on Thursday 29, 2011

    Chris, I completely agree with you.

  2. Kate D. Timmerman (Reply) on Thursday 29, 2011

    Thank you Chris for an excellent piece. In addition, I think it is also important to ask who is handling the work and if they have training. If a work does not meet your minimum, it really stinks to get it back damaged…especially an expensive frame!

    Phoenix has created a class of collector that only buys on the cheap. I hope this article reaches some of these people.

  3. Ken Boe (Reply) on Thursday 29, 2011

    I’ve been in a number of discussions about this and I think you have some great ideas and add to the discussion. Kate adds a good point to your discussion of cheap art markets, and its ironic considering the huge value attached to not just blue chip artists in the auction houses, but a number of artists just out of school in cities like LA, New York, and London. I have seen that there are great artists all over this land, as well as charitable events feeding off of them. It may have gotten out of hand where that’s the only art collectors are buying in middle America because they(not us) can write it off on their taxes, hedging their bets. If collectors really want to hedge their bets out here they need to do more than buy our work on the cheap, or with a tax write off. They need to follow up on that and invest in the careers of the artists they find in their collections.