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Donating Art: Art donations and charity auctions

by Brian Sherwin on 5/26/2013 5:24:33 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY, artnet, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. Sherwin graduated from Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois) in 2003 -- he studied art and psychology extensively. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 23,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

It is not uncommon for organizations (specifically arts organizations) to hold fundraising auctions in order to secure extra funding. I applaud those efforts. However, these auctions often involve donated artwork – the result of a 'flood' of donation requests sent to various artists. There is only one problem with this process – several problems, actually. I will explore some of the typical problems below.


I ask that you, dear reader, place emotive reasons for donating aside long enough to explore these problems:


1.) Charity / fundraising auctions rarely, if ever, acknowledge donating artist directly. I base my opinion on hundreds of conversations I've had with artists over the years. Don't expect a press acknowledgement unless you push for it. In fact, don't expect to be mentioned anywhere by the organizer (aside from the when the work is offered) unless you really, really, really push for it.


2.) In most cases the organization never showed interest in the artists before. In fact, the donation request is often the first point of contact between the organization and the artist. That said, the same organization may hold exhibits of art throughout the year – yet the organization only approaches YOU when artwork donations are needed... why? The answer is simple. The organization wanted free art... and a good cause is clearly a good way to fill that need – all while ignoring the core of YOUR needs.


3.) The organization may be well funded for the most part. In some cases the organization may be in the position to purchase artwork directly from the artist for the auction – and start the bidding above that mark. In fact, the purchase would likely be tax deductible... it would be consider an expense for the organization. Point-blank, many of these organizations could likely buy the artwork outright with little to no loss after everything is said and done. Most organizations won't do that though... they know they can obtain artwork from various artists for free.


4.) Sometimes the bidder has no intention of actually keeping the artwork that he or she has won. He or she just wanted to take part in the auction – and be the top bidder in order to help raise funding, social standing, whatever. Unfortunately, organizations rarely have options for where the artwork will end up if in fact the bidder is not truly interested in the piece. Thus, the artwork may end up gathering dust in storage OR donated to a non-profit thrift store where it will likely be undervalued or damaged (Trust me on this... I thrift shop regularly – and have been told a story or three).


5.) Artists -- at least in the United States -- can't deduct the fair market value of their artwork when donating artwork to a charity auction. However, artists CAN deduct the expense of creating the piece – material costs, framing costs, and so on. Unfortunately, many organizations forget to mention these facts to donating artists OR provide misinformation that may land the artist in 'hot water' with the IRS. Again, I base my opinion on what hundreds of artists have told me over the years.


6.) Art collectors have a financial incentive for donating artwork. They can -- and DO -- take advantage of tax deductions that are simply not available to the creators of the artwork. In fact, many art collectors donate simply to take advantage of the tax break... organizations know AND accept this. Oddly enough, artists are often described as being 'parasitic' or 'opportunists' if they stress the desire for having the same tax incentive that art collectors enjoy when donating artwork. I, for one, think that artists deserve that incentive.


With the emotion-driven reasons for donating aside... what do YOU think? Should artists expect more from organizations when donating artwork? Should organizations do more to support the artists they approach? Again, I want YOU to explore these issues with emotion cast aside. I'm not looking for 'you should only donate if you believe in the cause' type of answers – because that is a given. Art collectors, for example, donate to causes they believe in... AND benefit from tax incentives -- shouldn't artists demand the same? Food for thought.


In closing, it goes without saying that an artist will only donate to a cause that he or she believes in, right? That does not mean the artist should allow himself or herself to be treated poorly by the charity / fundraising organizers. After all, these same organizations tend to bend over backwards in order to promote corporate or celebrity sponsors... so why not expect them to bend a little for artists who contribute toward the cause with their donated artwork? Share your experience and view on this issue. Discuss.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

Remember to Respect your Audience

How to Give Without Being Taken Part 2

Commissioned Artwork: What rules do you follow when accepting / pricing a commission?

Donate for Advertising

Album Cover Art: Fee or free?

An "Artful" Way to Cut Your Tax Bill

Fund Raisers That Do It Right

Uphold the integrity of your visual message

Art Is Not A Popularity Contest

Topics: advice for artists | art and society | art appreciation | art collectors | art law | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank 

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