Charity Art Auctions


Dear Artist,

One of the joys of being an artist is to be able to give some of our best efforts back to the community that has supported and encouraged us. It’s an honor and a privilege that our works are accepted as valuable currency. It’s hard to turn down the local hospital when they want a new CT scan. Charities need us. They need us for research into leukemia, AIDS, cancer; fundraisers for half-way houses, alcoholics centers, to say nothing of cultural organizations dear to our hearts. It’s possible for some artists to be fully employed making stuff for charities.

Here’s what to watch out for: Not long ago these events were new and patrons were often prepared to pay more than gallery value because they wanted to give generously to the charity. In some areas art-based charities have been overdone. Patrons now, no matter how black-tie the event, sometimes want to get the art at the best possible price. My friend Joe Blodgett, who attends these things, says that fundraisers are now swimming with bottom-feeders. Fact is, charity auctions are pretty hard on the commercial gallery system on which most of us depend.

Then there’s the rationale of the tax receipt. In most countries, unfortunately, the tax receipt is not worth much or anything to the artist. The revenuers want you to take the tax receipt into revenue — as if you have personally sold the work — then deduct the receipt. It’s a wash — making only a bit of work for your accountant.

Here’s what to do about it: Tell the charity you want to share to some degree in the auction — say fifty-fifty — less if you really like the charity. Put a reserve on your work that is at or near the going gallery price. Tell them they can keep all of the advance above the gallery price or your reserve. It’s better to have your work unsold at a charity auction than to undermine your dealers. Charities benefit from this system because they get better work from the artists. If you must give something away make it a drawing or a print if you have them. For some well-meaning and worthy charity people who don’t know what they’re doing, it’s often better to just give them a check.


“The Swell”
by Robert Genn

Best regards,


PS: “When you cease to make a contribution you begin to die.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Esoterica: “In some cases the poor support the poor. Artists should be paid and respected. But if we only have to think of ourselves our society will not advance. Artists, clearly, are leaders. Our leadership comes from compassion.” (Chris Tyrell)


Asking too much?
by Kathie Brosemer, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada

As a volunteer director with several charities who have either considered or taken the route of the charity art auction, I have been troubled by the idea that we are asking too much of artists in our community, and that their work is undervalued at these events. Your solutions are respectful of all — the artist, the charities whose volunteers give so much, and the galleries we need to support in order to support the artists.


Unwashed crowd
by Billie

Most of these auction goers are NON collectors. They are inexperienced in the art world, cannot appreciate the value. Often they are looking for something cheap. This is why a hospital has the responsibility to invite and nail down QUALIFIED guests. By that I mean the RIGHT CROWD. A bunch of doctors and researchers are more likely to bid up a scuba diving excursion. You get the idea. Organizers need to realize that you cannot throw up a bunch of world class art, or crappy amateur art for that matter, and expect a bunch of naives to bid it all up to astronomical prices for the sake of a new CT scan.


Wrong kind of exposure
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA

It seems like I get a request for a painting donation about once a week. Everyone is surprised to learn that I can only deduct the value of the materials. The ‘exposure’ I get means basically being ‘exposed’ to other people who think of me when it’s time to hit up local artists for donations for their favorite charity. In truth, I’m happy to support most of the groups who ask for my support. And sometimes there’s a great party invite thrown in, which is always a good thing. I guess the biggest problem I have with the whole process is how rarely the artists are recognized for the community support they provide. People seem to think that the art we donate just grows on trees. I’m not sure that there’s any accurate way to measure the real contributions artists make to their communities, but I know I personally have had a profound effect on my neighborhood. And I’m proud of that.


Sharing the profit
by Susan Holland, Issaquah, WA, USA

This concept is what drives Judy Wray and some of the rest of us to create an exhibition designed to help non-profits by selling reproductions of the art works, and designed to help the artists by giving them all the proceeds from sales of their original works. Your idea of donating monies above the asking price is a good one. I have long identified with the many unseen and unsung artists who work in isolation and don’t have the market savvy or opportunity (call it money and connections) to get their work out there. There are treasures in the nooks and crannies of our planet. We need to ferret it out by supporting the artists and making it possible for them to be seen.


Donates unsaleable pieces
by M J Mailloux, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

From time to time I am approached to offer either a piece of work or my time as a consultant. When I don’t have a commission it is hard for me to take my time seriously enough to refuse to help schools and other charities who really need it. I have donated pieces I haven’t been able to sell otherwise. It’s a catch 22. I want the work to be out there and for someone to be enjoying it. I would also like it to be sold for what it is worth.


Extreme auction fatigue
by Jack Mullin, Vancouver, BC, Canada

It’s been reported that three recent charity auctions drew over $600,000 out of the Vancouver (BC) art market. Inga Pullmann reported that approximately two thirds of the works offered in these auctions failed to achieve anywhere near gallery prices. The area suffers from extreme auction fatigue.


Elton John needed me
by Moncy Barbour, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA

I sent a drawing to Dublin for an AIDS fundraiser sponsored by Elton John & Liz Taylor. I only wish that I could do more to save lives, including abolishing the death penalty & abortion.


Artist-run charity show
by Jean Pederson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Five years ago a group of artists and myself were discussing how we could give back to the community with our artistic gifts. We developed an art show and sale where the selling price would match the gallery price. If the painting sells, the artist is paid 50% of the selling price, if it doesn’t sell the painting is given back to the artist with thanks. This show is juried and a lot of energy is given to making the event strong and classy. This year we are expanding the event to include a celebration of arts with entertainment entwined into the show. We hope to hand out awards for best of show this year as an incentive to keep the standards as high as possible. We have developed a reputation as a top quality event. The show benefits the Calgary “Mustard Seed,” an organization that feeds, shelters, and educates street people.


Specific edition
by Robert Davidson, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Consider this as a method of handling the barrage of charity auction requests: Pull a specific edition of print that is earmarked for fundraisers. This piece can then go where it will and at any price without interfering with the commercial market.


No advertising value
by Francie Mary

This letter came in at the right moment when I had just decided I’d not donate my art to nobody anymore… Advertisement? I never sold any piece of art to someone who had seen my art in one of those auctions, nor have I got any recommendation from any buyer who purchased my art from an auction.


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since October 31, 2000.

That includes Janice Robertson, President of the Federation of Canadian Artists, who says, “The 50-50 split is a win-win situation for both artist and charity for exactly the reasons you laid out.”



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