Donations, Charities, Auctions and Art

I’ve discussed donating art a few years ago on this blog, but since this is such a debated topic, I thought it would be useful to revisit it.  It’s great to have someone think so highly of your art that they believe it would help their organization to auction it off.  On the other hand, as your career progresses, you’ll find that you are being asked to donate your work to auctions A LOT.  Sometimes one a week.  At that rate, you won’t have any art left to sell.  So what’s an up and coming artist with a heart of gold to do?  Well it won’t be easy, but you’ll have to pick the ones you want to help (and feasibly can) and politely let the others know that you can’t.

Sounds simple enough, right?  There are a few considerations to keep in mind first.  Obviously if the auction/charity/event is to benefit something close to your heart, then those are the causes you’ll want to start with.  Some causes may not be in line with your beliefs- for example, I am a vegan, therefore I will only donate to charities that do not test on animals.  While you are narrowing down your favorites, also take a look at the event details:

Where is the event venue?  Is it a venue that you are proud to be associated with?

What is to become of your donated art- is it going to be hung on a museum wall or is it being used in an auction?

If it is an auction, what happens if the work is not sold– do you get it back?

Do you like the other artists’ work that will be seen with yours?

If it is an auction, is the starting bid price at a reasonable rate so as not to devalue your work?  Can you set the starting bid price yourself?  Can you set a reserve amount?

Do you get a percentage of the sale?

Will you receive free tickets to the event (presumably for you and a guest)?

If you cannot answer these questions, then don’t be shy- find out from the event organizer or coordinator.  Many organizations, while they mean well, do not realize that artists get these requests quite often and that they are essentially asking you for a donation worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, so don’t feel bad about looking out for yourself.  Also, be aware many organizations will try to sell you on the idea of donating as a tax write-off.  This is only partly true.  You can only deduct the supplies/materials used to create the piece.  You cannot write-off the actual art donated.  (This only applies to collectors of art that has appreciated so they donate to museums and get out of paying income tax on the appreciation.)  It’s unfair, I know, but that’s how it works, at least in the United States.  If you’re looking to get some sort of deduction, you should just write a check to the organization.  If you are happy with the event parameters and have available work to donate, go ahead with it, attend the event, and do some networking. Perhaps the auction winner will become your next collector…


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