I had a friend call me all riled up, as we say in Texas, about an organization using artists for donations. From what I gathered they were promoting the event all over, and the artists names that had donated works were not mentioned anywhere. Another problem she saw, was the fact that artwork was starting out at bids of $20. Where is the advocacy, she asked me– don’t they know artists have to make a living…

I see this ALL the time. A non for profit will ask artists to donate to causes, give no name recognition and on top of that, most take 100% for the charity.  These same organizations will usually never be interested in the artist otherwise– as to say no one in that said organization ever buys original artwork.

So how did this exploitation proliferate to such a high level? There are lots of factors. One being that artists ARE in fact starved for money, for recognition, for everything. They are willing to give for nothing. Second, there is still little value by society placed on artwork. When a regular business donates to a charity, you can bet your ass their name will appear in all the print among other places.

Why do artists tolerate this? What are your thoughts on the issue… Have you been in this situation before?


Here are some responses that came via email:

Sonia, thank you for your comment. I want to know why artists always need to donate?? We had a studio tour this weekend. A kid and his mother blind sided me when I had a crowd around explaining my art for a donation to his school for “special” children and could I donate. Rather than look like I scrooge (which is exactly how I feel) I did. I happen to know the kid’s school is private and about $25,000 a year in tuition. I’m still pissed I didn’t tell the kid to contact me later, this wasn’t the time, but I didn’t think fast enough. Thanks for letting me vent. 
Why Artists? — How often do plumbers or doctors donate? They will bill you after you are dead 😉 — true story!!! 
I spent 10 years teaching, and running, a community college art program in Illinois and I would regularly get calls asking student or faculty to donate their work and time. Every request always included comments on how good it would be for the reputation/career of those making the donation. I would then ask a series of questions that would require the person making the request to be specific as to what those benefits might include. This would lead that person to the realization that they knew nothing about what it takes to build a reputation/career in the arts. I would then ask them if any attorneys, bankers, doctors or dentists would be contributing their services to charity. This would cause them to realize that there would be no benefit to those professionals or to the individual artists making such contributions. I would then suggest that a more reasonable fund raising ideas might include:

1.) An auction in which contributors would bid on a percentage discount, of artist’s work being purchased, for a limited period of time. This could be done showing examples of work by various artists. The organization hosting the event would receive the bids for the discounts only and none of the fees for the actual sale of the art.

2.) An auction of art works in which bidders would pay a bid fee, which would be their charitable contribution while the bids on the art would go to the artists.

3.) The sponsoring organization receiving artist’s donations, would provide an appropriate exhibition and sales venue in which contributing artists could exhibit their work publicly, at a later date, with no sales percentage being taken at that time.

4.) Bidders would bid on the talents of various artist’s to create commissions specifically for their home or business. The initial bids would go to charity but the artists would be paid for the works they create.

After several years of doing this, I found that requests for no-strings free contributions dropped off considerably and that those making such requests were usually be more thoughtful and deliberate. This would often create more opportunities for artists and a growing realization that artists are also professionals.

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