Compiled from the NAIA Member Forum in Nov. 2004
The following question was asked by a show director...
After having attended many NAIA Artists' and Directors' conferences and listening to artists and directors speak on a variety of subjects I'd like to ask your opinions now on the subject of art auctions.
Our Friends of the Arts, a fundraising board that raises dollars for our Cultural Arts Division to spend on art programming in our community, programs a silent art auction each year at the Arts Festival. Recently it has been discussed among and between artists and directors that this practice of soliciting donations from artists and reselling it is exploitive. I am in complete agreement partly because of the tax laws and partly because it is wrong to continually ask for something in return for nothing. I have tried to explain this to the Friends of the Arts and have taken the next step of suggesting alternative fundraising ideas more equitable to artists. In my responding to artists and making the event I produce more artist-friendly I stand alone against a board of 25 community members. What I need at this point are the opinions of artists and directors to validate what I am saying to the Friends. If you'd take a moment to give me your opinion about art auctions and why they should be abolished I'd be grateful.
~~~~~ Responses from members ~~~~~
For the most part, I am opposed to these auctions for the reasons cited below ESPECIALLY if it is a prerequisite for doing the show. If it is voluntary with ABSOLUTELY NO repercussions if one does not participate, then maybe but then too I am generally in disagreement with them. This has been a very hard year for many artists; we are broke and winter is coming on; private health insurance is very expensive; retirement funds being used to keep us afloat; our trucks have over 200,000 miles and cost a fortune to gas up; of course they give hotel rooms away - well it is not really that bad for all of us but most of us do not have sugar daddies (mommies?) so we can play at being artists. It is what we do and to donate our work is often donating a part of us we often cannot afford.
One fund raiser that I do like, actually two, are at Artigras and Ft Myers. They have an art sale tent for kids (do not know the age limits). An artist MAY donate a (some) inexpensive pieces for this. We did some little pieces worth maybe $10 for this. The tent is open only to the kids; no parents or other grown-up types to muddy their thought process. It is a treat watching the kids go in to shop on their own and their expressions upon leaving with their goodies is worth the price of the donation. And on the practical side, they are the future patrons. I guess it may get old if every show did this, but I have enjoyed my experiences doing it.
And how about an auction where we can clear out our "used" art we have collected over the years? I know we all (artists, directors, collectors, art board types, etc) have accumulated so much work over the years that we grew away from but others may like. Or how about adding the patrons to this by getting them together and having an auction where they donate pieces they have purchased over the years? The work could end up being viewed in many settings over the years, your walls could change every year, and you would be donating to the cause.
A very simple way to make them non-exploitive it to simply work as a gallery would and give the artists their cut of the money. Then everyone benefits. Of course, you no longer get 100% of the sale price, but you undoubtedly would make it up with more work to sell.
CraftBoston does not have a silent auction. They have discounted show certificates. Artists can choose one of 3 values of show certificates to donate, $125, 250.00 or $500.00. The patron buys them at a 20% discount and redeem them in the artists booth. Gets the patrons moving around the show and shopping and deciding what to buy and who's certificates to buy. The patron goes and buys the certificate and redeems it and hands the artist their SOLD sticker to put on the booth show certificate participant sign. It works out well because the patron gets to decide exactly what they want to buy, the sales is usually for more than the certificate so the artist is getting some money out of the deal. The organization gets the money and doesn't have to deal with handling any produt, display, etc.
Thanks for helping us with this issue and for presenting good info to your board.
We have no pieces that we "dust" off and donate.
There are few smaller works and the techniques involved are very time consuming; the artists' time in the one-of-a-kind work is substantial, which lends us to the decision of picking and choosing our donations very carefully.
We do not like the "no opening bid" silent auctions. To me, this devalues the work and puts it more in the bargain hunting arena and also lends some artist to not put their best foot forward in the presentation of these silent auction pieces.
There are several options available but these options will require more of a commitment from your auction process & the committee in charge of this fundraising - more volunteer time in order to reap the rewards for the charitable institution.
Have artists set a minimum bid and then take a commission percentage (which is deductible as a commission) as the contribution.
- Present the auction as an opening gala for artists and patrons to intermingle and discuss the work, also a little booze aways help the auction process.
- Or Don't make it silent. Hire an auctioneer to start at the minimum bid (set by the artist) and bid it up - still splitting the proceeds with the artist as a percentage.
Renee's idea is also good. With the artist writing a check as a donation (representing a % of sale on a particular work or within a time period of an "opening"), the artist can then take the donation as a contribution on their personal taxes (if they use itemized deductions on Sched. A) or you could word it as "commission" which would be deductible on the business side of the return.
It just seems that any show should keep in mind that artist are continuously asked for work as a donation for some charitable cause. I'm sure that most are very good causes but artist must make a living with their work and cannot possibly keep up with this demand -
Take a look at the way Old Town in Chicago does their whole show - NO BOOTH FEE except for the donated work which they auction off with an auctioneer. New to the show is also, a gala opening where the artist sets a minimum bid and then the artist receives 70% of the selling (silent auction) price. This is an additional work separate from the (auctioneered) piece that is used to cover the booth fee requirement and the silent auction piece is voluntary. The quality and nature of the work was very good at both event. The silent auction gala & the auctioneer auction also brought us some nice booth sales during the show.
Perhaps use as an example whatever occupation(s) that your board works in - ask them if they would contibute their time, their money and their services in their profession numerous times during the year to charitable organizations that they know nothing or little about and for which they can reap no helpful tax benefits.
It seems to me that if auctions are worked correctly, it could be of great benefit to all - artist, the show and the charity, but they all have to work together in public education of artist work, in creating excitment about owning an "original", to represent value in artist work, in getting the "right" people to the show and to the auction. It would be so great to see the auction process help all involved.
Hmmmmm ... let's see
artists donate the dusty stuff on the shelve that hasn't sold so you're getting something that the public already has passed over.
Unless there's a high minimum starting bid most artists are insulted by the bargain hunting that goes on at auction.
I've already paid a big chunk of money to be there.
Things that you don't figure into my expenses to doing a show when you all decide that I should be able to donate a piece. The $100+ in postage when I mailed a postcard to advertising your show to my customer base. Travel to your show would cost me about $400.00 in gas, tolls, food and hotels on the road. Costs to be at your show would probably cost me another $400.00 in hotel and food. So figure about another $1,000 over booth fee to just show up ... oh and you want a piece donated?
PUblic is busy at the auction and not in my booth shopping.
It's another damn PITA thing I have to remember to deal with and I don't really care about what programs you're supporting because I don't live there.
We only do 8-10 shows a year but most of them ask for a donation. Add that to our local organizations that make requests and we may be asked for more than 20 donations a year. Making 20 lower end glass pieces would still amount to a minimum of 40-50 days of work. I would guess that number would be much higher for many of the artists here. I don't see how people can or should afford to give work away.
The best solution I've seen is ACE - Evanston where you donate a percentage of a piece(of your choosing) that sells. You write out a check for the donation so you also get the deduction. ACC- St. Paul does something similar, you donate a percentage of your sales from the opening night. Both situations are voluntary participation.
I agree with the above points made. To that I will add that my low end is 300.00. For others their low end might be 30.00. When repeatedly asked for donations I have to buffer donating a piece I could easily sell or making a mortgage payment.
Guess which wins!
Do the people on your board you answer to understand that besides trying to keep afloat, most of us are getting older and dealing with health issues and many of us have no health insurance? This is our reality. Perhaps if this was presented to your board and that of other boards a more understanding approach could be worked out.
The other thing that can occur with these 'donations' is that there is a feeling that unless you donate you may jeopardize your place in the show. These fears are real. When a clipboarded voluteer shows up at your booth to mark on her sheet if you have donated or not these things cross our minds.
Perhaps the show should donate a portion of our both fee instead.
>> Perhaps the show should donate a portion of our both fee instead. <<
THAT's going to happen!
Or they'll raise the booth fee to accomplish it.
I tend to think of members of the board of museums or art organizations as rather upper-crusty sorts. Perhaps they could unlimber THEIR wallets a bit if the show isn't making enough money for the organization?
Why doesn't the show itself make "enough" money? A bit of brainstorming on that topic might aid the show AND the artists.
And also, as was suggested, and to not put too fine a point on it -- why should WE be asked to support YOUR organization?
The idea of a Gala with a [real] auctioneer and a percentage donated is a good one, though. So is having the board donate some of their own professional services.
I wonder why it's so hard for civilians to appreciate that, in spite of our relatively high education level, we don't really make all that much money. In spite of being daily involved with art, we don't just Love Art to the point of starving our children. There seems to be a perception that we are "above" the filthy lucre part of the equation, and do what we do for the upliftment and joy of it. The concept of the starving artist is romantic and all, and many of us were just that in our younger days -- but the reality of quotidian dreariness affects us just as it affects our customers and patrons.
!!!!! "civilians" !!!!!
Yes, it does sometimes feel like we are at war with so many things to try to survive as independent artists.
Short of a comprehensive approach starting with the things LaTrece mentioned, auctions leave nothing but bad feelings and bad tastes.
We ain't the ones with the money.
We already give lots of time and money to organizations and causes that we believe in. We know yours are good, but we've got our own community concerns.
If your board truly cares about art and truly cares about artists, they will dump the auction, or else have them contact LaTrece (prepared to pay a nice consulting fee) to set it up right so everyone wins.
If it is only about money, just have a bake sale.
WEST COAST WEATHER VANES DONATION POLICY
West Coast Weather Vanes produces limited edition, hand-crafted weather vanes.
Our designs are both unique and contemporary, incorporating non-traditional
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Currently, there are only a handful of artists creating custom, hand-crafted
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professionally west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hand-crafted weather vanes are very labor intensive to make. Even with four
weather vane makers working at West Coast Weather Vanes, we make less than 100
total vanes a year. Because of the high cost of materials and the skilled
labor required to create each weather vane, prices start at $495.00 and go up
to $16,000.00 with the average price around $2,000.00.
Although we are a small company, we receive a surprising number of requests
for contributions in support of worthy causes. Because of our limited
production capabilities and high costs we are able to make very few outright
donations of weather vanes no matter how much we may support a particular
organization or cause.
We have, however, come up with the following donation policy:
1. Based on our current level of production and recent donation history, West
Coast Weather Vanes may be in a position to donate one weather vane (we are
happy to work with the organization to select a weather vane that would be
appropriate for their event) at a special discounted price of 30% off our
existing price list. Any funds raised over that discounted price are retained
by the organization in support of their fundraising activities. Most
organizations start the bidding at the discounted price and list the suggested
retail price near the actual weather vane to encourage higher bidding. When
well promoted, a number of our weather vanes have sold for over double the
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Lead time is critical, however, to insure availability by the time of your
event. The organization collects the auctioned amount and passes the
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If, for some reason, the weather vane does not sell and is not a specially
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event's end, shipping prepaid, as long as no damage has been sustained while
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2. West Coast Weather Vanes is also willing to offer 10% of the retail price
to the sponsoring organization on any additional weather vane orders taken at
the event or in a two week period following the event. This 10% applies to any
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Coast Weather Vanes will work with the purchaser and handle all costs for the
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our current production schedule. A check for the 10% will be mailed once the
weather vane is completed and the final payment has been received.
If this second part of the West Coast Weather Vane donation is well publicized
and a level of excitement has been generated during the auction or raffle, it
is here that a number of organizations have raised the most money for their
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If our policy sounds like it would be compatible with your fundraising
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