Past Comments

September Issue 2003
by Tom Starland

First - A Guest Commentary

Listen to what is being said. I've heard it over and over again. I've yapped my head off about this problem and still artists don't get it. Now, hear it from someone else.

An Open Letter to Artists

by Jerry Spencer

There is a rising problem that affects all professional visual artists. The problem is the increasing requests for donations of art to auctions in support of worthy causes. We are killing ourselves and our industry.

In Charleston, SC, there are annually 30 to 40 fundraising events where donations of art are auctioned. In one auction I counted 120 pieces of art at one event. You do the math. These are sales of artworks that directly compete with sales by artists and galleries.

Obviously the charities want artwork to auction. Art auctions attract upper-income donors who have money to give. The problem is that these donors are often the same patrons who buy the work of professional artists both from the artists and the galleries.

Here are some aspects of the problem. Art at charity auctions generally sells for less than the same art in galleries. The public is rapidly becoming aware of this. I know one artist who was told by a patron, "If you will donate this painting to xxxxx charity auction, I will buy it there". So even though a patron may be interested in buying work by a specific artist, the buyer waits to buy at a charity auction so they can save money and support a charity auction at the same time. Who loses??? The artist and the galleries.!!!

Artwork sold at bargain prices at charity auctions brings into question the prices the artist normally charges. The thought process goes: If all these people at this auction do not think this artist's work is worth any more than the bid price, why am I paying (or have paid) the artist or the gallery more??? The other people at the auction remember the bid price and place the artist's work in a similar price range. There goes the reputation of the artist and the gallery. Who loses??? The artists and the galleries.!!!!

Art sold through charity auctions does not go through the gallery system. So galleries lose sales and either go out of business or do not do enough business to be healthy and promote artists. Who loses??? The artists and the galleries!!!!!

Before someone calls me an old Scrooge, let me say I am an artist, an artist who has donated art, a gallery owner, a gallery owner who donates art, an educator in the field of nonprofit (charity) management including fundraising, and an educator in the field of arts and artist management. I see and have seen the problem from all sides.

I agree that we should all support worthy causes. Support provides good publicity for the artists and the galleries and enhances an artist's image. But as the situation now stands, both artists and galleries are shooting themselves in the foot.

What's the solution?? Leave the unlimited and unconditional donations to the "Sunday Painters" and emerging artists who have no established price levels, who have no established reputations to lose, and who can benefit from testing the waters to see what the public thinks of their art.

Professional artists should adopt one of the following postures:

a. Donate artwork only on the condition that it be sold at auction at no less than the same work would normally be sold for. You could call this a minimum bid price. The worthy cause gets to keep the money and the artists keep their reputations. Unsold artwork is returned to the artist who can then sell the work at normal prices and donate some real money if the cause is indeed worthy.

b. Establish a minimum bid price lower than the artist's normal price to encourage sales for the worthy cause, but not so low as to hurt the artists reputation. In this instance, the worthy cause should agree to have the auctioneer announce at the auction that this is a special low price, courtesy of the artist. This protects the artist's reputation.

c. Offer the charity a "gift certificate" of 5%, 10%, or whatever off the buyer's choice of art in the artist's studio or gallery. This saves the artist's reputation, saves the gallery image, gets the interested patron in the artist's studio or gallery for further interaction, and gets the patron a broader choice of art. Patronage and future sales are encouraged. Everybody wins. Of course, the artists could also show one of their finest works at the auction encourage bidding. (Note: as it is now, many artists donate work of lesser quality. Think how much better it would be if you could show your best work at the crowded auction!!! You might even sell it there!!!!)

For a sample, printable, agreement between professional artists and charities, click here.

I hope all this makes sense to some artists who will pass the word along. Somehow we must stop being our own worst enemy.

Jerry W. Spencer is an artist, gallery owner, museum director, director of the International Arts Management Institute and founder of the Arts Management Degree Program at the College of Charleston.

Back to me - Tom Starland

Can I get an Amen? Check out the "contract" on our website - try it and see what response you get from the next charity that comes a calling for free art.

I hope to soon be showing folks a better way to do a fundraiser using art - by example.

When it rains - it pours!

I don't know about you and where you live, but enough is enough! It has rained in little ol' Bonneau, SC, every day since the middle of May - sometimes twice a day. We even had a tropical depression come through for several days where it rained all day. Our lake is as full as it can be. All this on top of several years of drought. One of my neighbors is cutting his grass every-other day.

August also marked the pouring on of press releases about exhibitions and events taking place in the Carolinas. Unfortunately, this means if you missed the Aug. 15th deadline - your info is not in this issue and for some who did make the deadline - there wasn't enough room for all we received. Everything we receive always goes on our website - which will be packed this month - as is this issue. The only solution is more advertising support. Advertising is NOT a guarantee of always getting your articles in - it helps, but we just can't operate that way - or we would become a very dull paper. Diversity counts! But, on the same note - if you never support our efforts - I will always be forced to make the hard choices each month of what gets in and what won't. I hate it when that happens and it happens more than I like.

What's really bad is that we have a good bit of stuff for the next issue already. So pay close attention to the deadline and think about sending some support our way - if you're not already one of our super outstanding supporters. You are what makes all this possible. So, a lot of the credit that comes our way - is yours.

Charleston Artist Directory

Check out page 22 for the details on our project to create an artist directory on the web for visual artists living in the greater Charleston, SC, area. Oh what fun for us!


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