Saturday, December 8, 2007

I Stole a Pair of Kathleen Dustin Earrings

Got your attention, huh? I didn't literally steal them of course. But it felt like it. Family Services of Greater Boston is the organization who puts on the Crafts at the Castle show each year. It is a fantastic show....gorgeous work by extremely talented artists. And like many non-profits who run craft shows, they look to the artists to donate items that they can auction off to generate more income for their organization. Kathleen Dustin donated a pair of earrings to their auction. And I won them in the auction for only $50. These are a pair of her new pod earrings that would normally retail for $150. A steal!

So here is the thing....what are the consequences of these auctions? Beyond some great bargains. Are they really a benefit to the artists or to the organization? If you go and look you will see plenty of beautiful work.....all going for substantial discounts to the retail value of the items. A gorgeous Natalie Blake vase, I wouldn't mind owning, went for under $300, versus a retail price of $425. A lovely necklace of sterling and polymer clay by Mary Filpek and Lou Ann Townsend did not even get a bid. A sublime scarf by Jeung-Hwa, knitted, felted and hand-dyed, went for less than half it's retail price in spite of a bidding war, which I watched from the sidelines, debating whether I should jump in. I could go on,.....a basket from JoAnne Russo, a museum quality piece. NO bids.

What is going on? For one thing, not enough people who might be interested in the work of the artists are aware of the auction, or participating in it. When you have a small pool of people engaged in an auction, prices will not be bid up enough to get to a price that reflects the true value of the work. Add the emergence of the online services that will enter a bid for someone at the last minute....which happened on two items I was watching in this auction,.... and you get less bidding overall. It drives the bargain.

And there is that bargain mentality that people approach an auction with. They want to get a deal. The deal that no one else could get. So they can brag about it over cocktails...or in their blog!

But it seems to me that it is doing a disservice to the artists and to the organizations. What if, instead of auctions, they raffled off the art work? It might increase the participation. A raffle could increase the pool of people who are willing to enter the competition. The show I am doing at the Fitchburg Art Museum this weekend is doing this. They asked each artist to donate an item with a value of approximately $25, and then they are raffling off the work.

Or, Craft Boston sells gift certificates. Each artist can donate a certificate worth $50, $100, or maybe $250 dollars. The show organizers (The Society of Arts and Crafts), then sells the certificates, and the buyers can redeem them with the artist. I had two people vying for the certificate I donated on the first night of the show. It does not diminish the value of the work, the organization gets a better value, and it has better tax implications for the artist.

When we donate a piece of art, we are only allowed to deduct the value of the materials. Our labor is worth nothing in the deduction. Insane. But if we donate a gift certificate, it is more like cash. We can deduct the value of the gift certificate.

But, here is the thing. How many of the people who are getting steals in these auctions can afford to make a substantial donation to the opposed to the artist being able to afford making a donation of their work?? The artists are already paying a fee for the booth space. Artists are more typically living at the economic edge. Should they be the ones who are making the greatest sacrifice to support these non-profits?

It is sometimes argued that the auctions are a way to generate publicity for your work. Exposure to people who could become collectors. If they truly are potential collectors, why do so many things go for so little money?? Aren't collectors usually people who appreciate the work of the artist? And, is this the kind of publicity we need for our work?

I used to always donate items when asked by organizations. I no longer will donate to an auction, unless it is an organization I would happily support otherwise. I will donate a small item for a raffle. I will donate a gift certificate. Or, if the booth fee is high, I may just pass. We can say no. It does not make us a bad person. Just because someone asks, we still need to evaluate if it makes sense for us and our situation. How much does it benefit the organization? How much does it benefit us? And what are the potential risks? This requires careful consideration, and there is no one answer that will fit every situation, or every person.


carlierae26 said...

Maybe you should reconsider. Art is only worth what a person is willing to pay, not what the artist hopes to get. I love the earrings you got, and the polyclay necklace, that's gorgeous. I think they are art. But that doesn't mean I'd pay those prices for them. According to many, the economy sucks, the dollar is down, so maybe art should follow if they want to sell.

Libby said...

I think in the case of the Family Services Auction they could have done a much better job publicizing the auction. Something came up for me at the last minute and I wasn't able to attend Crafts At The Castle, but I would have definitely checked out the auction if I had known.

As for the whole concept of auctions of artists' work, I have to agree with you. I think in the end it can devalue your work. Like you, I only say yes now when I am very close to the organization. Frankly the gift certificate idea sounds like the best bet to me. The bidder gets to choose the piece they really want. The artist gets more direct attention and less of a loss.

artandtea said...

Hi Judy,
Thanks for the thought provoking post. I agree with your point of view. An entrepreneur is very wise to consider what would work the best for their business when making a donation. The company I work for receives many donation requests. We have found that the situation that works the best for all is to donate a gift certificate.

Loretta Lam said...

well, it's Sunday and I know I'm tired but...I've read this entry twice and can't figure it out. Did you exhibit at the show or simply attend??? If you exhibited - then I want to hear how it went.
Re: show auctions - I'm with you. I always feel like I'm being asked to bleed a little. My last show, the org. screwed up and my piece didn't get included. So the person in charge tells me,"you can still donate the piece and we'll save it for our next event." I'm sorry. I don't think so. Gotta laugh at some people.
xxx Loretta