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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Donating Art to Charities & Causes

Recently my partner and I attended an "art auction" in which I had a piece of sculpture. I am not going to state the organizations name out of respect to their cause. I will say for the record that its a cause that I feel very deeply about. This post is in no way a slur to their dedication to fund raise for this cause, nor did I look at it personally. I was glad to have been able to donate to it.

Because this blog is dedicated to telling the story of an artists journey, I feel that saying a few things about this event are in order.
When we got back from the event, something disturbed me. In fact it disturbed me deeply enough that I couldn't work. I tried, but something kept nagging at me and I couldn't put a finger on it. In fact I didn't even realize that it was related to the auction until later. I finally gave up trying to create and went to bed for the night.

About 6am I woke up suddenly and laid there for the longest time trying to puzzle out why I was bothered. Then it hit me. Although the event had been billed as an "art auction", the whole thing had very little to do with art. In fact it was a glorified party at $75.00 a head. It really had so little to do with art, that I was suddenly blown away that I hadn't noticed the obvious while it was occurring.

There was a lot of drinking at a free bar and several bands and performers and some buffet style eats. If I'd gone there for just a party then I would say it was pretty successful. But that wasn't why I was there. The art itself was off in one corner of the room, laid out on tables. A few people browsed the art, but there was very little enthusiasm or interest in it. We noted right away that the event organizers had misspelled several artists names and several of the names for various pieces of art.

I took note that much of what was there wasn't even "first made" art. It was prints. And while there were some bids on various pieces it was pretty slim bidding with the average being 1-3 bids on most items. In fact that auction was supposed to close at 10pm and the bid boards were already removed by 9:30.

There was no attention paid to the art at all from the organizers that I could see during the time we were there. I hope this changed later but I somehow doubt it. If you make no attempt to promote the art you are auctioning then its very unlikely anyone will really care about it.

So you might ask yourself, why is he complaining about this? Whats the point? The point is that this was billed as an "art" event. And not a new to the art scene. This has been going on for 20+ years as an annual before Christmas event. It was corporately sponsored and gets a lot of exposure, as it should because its a good cause.

But why bill it as an art event if its no longer that? If its just a glorified party with a high entry fee then bill it as such. If I'd been going expecting it to be so then I don't think it would have disturbed me in the least. In fact I've donated to events such as that where the emphasis was on the performance rather than the art. I was fine with it.

But this was different. This was an event that I thought people attend because of the art that is there. I knew a lot of people attending and I was surprised by how many mentioned to me how poorly organized things seemed to be. But I also noticed that few who I knew were even there for the art. I admit I was personally embarrassed even though it had absolutely nothing to do with me.

I was embarrassed that I had submitted a very high priced piece of art because I wanted something entered in auction that would fetch a higher bid because I was under the assumption it was an ART AUCTION. The people attending were obviously there for drink and entertainment, not art.

And this is the crux of why I am writing this. Artists must be on the guard for these kinds of things. I am always preaching that an artist must be willing to donate work in order to publicize their name. They must choose their causes wisely and not donate just for the name recognition but because they believe in the causes they are donating. But we must also be cautious of when we are just being used. And even though I was the one to approach this organization about donating, I still felt used. The art was just an excuse, not the reason for the event.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not saying "don't donate", in fact I will probably submit a piece to this same fundraiser next year. But go into these things with your eyes wide open. I will go into it next year knowing its not really an art event. There is no need to look at it as an art event because its not.

Now on the flip side, I was asked soon after this event to donate to another event. This one was for a charity group that hosted a swanky Mardi Gras ball year in order to raise funds for coincidentally the same organization as the Art auction I spoke about above. But the difference this time was that the organization was not billing itself as an "art auction". I admit I was a bit hesitant after having a bad experience with the first, but I am a firm believer in not allowing one bad apple to spoil the pie.

So I arranged to speak to this charity and find out a bit more about it. One question I asked was what the general price point of the art was that they were collecting from others. This was important and a question I will never forget to ask again.

After talking with them I was not only satisfied with their responses but feeling positive enough to offer them three sculptures for their auction. As in the first case I was invited to attend their ball and see first hand how it was handled.

It was like night and day. All the mistakes the first organization made never occurred with the second. It was a first rate experience and I walked away feeling positive enough to want to work with them further in the future. 

The point of this final story is that we can't allow one bad experience to stop us from donating. We just have to choose wisely and learn from the mistakes made. 

There are few enough ways for artists  to grow without us having to vet the events first. Most events these days are nothing but publicity events where the artist is forced to bring their own audience and the popularity of their art is based on their their personal popularity. We need more events where the focus is on the art itself and not on any other activities whether they are parties, popularity votes or any other reasons.

Choosing our charities wisely will in the end help our careers more than hamper it. We just have to know what to watch for.


1 comment:

  1. Important observation. I am happy if the organizers treat the art with respect (even better if they also treat the artists with respect). I was happy to donate to the silent auction at a quiz night fundraiser recently and happier that the piece raised some money for the cause, and even happier that the person who bought it really values the painting.