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Omphaloskepsis Blog

Charitable Giving

Dec 11, 2011

“Oh! You’re an artist? (pause) I wonder if you would consider donating one of your pieces to (fill in the blank) charitable organization?” I know artists are one group among many who receive repeated requests for charitable donations. In the past six months, at least in my circles, this discussion has been heated.


It can be beneficial for an artist to attend a charity auction when the auction elevates their work, treats it with respect, and both the artist and the patrons have the opportunity to become personally acquainted and forge beneficial relationships. I see this as the true value of a charity auction. So if your donation doesn’t come with a ticket to the auction AND it’s not an auction that would benefit your career (other than being a cause you strongly support anyway), you may want to think about how you spend your time and devalue your work. (yes, devalue)

There are some posts written by others who explain it much better than I why it doesn’t work out so well for an artist to donate work to auctions. To me, the most heinous of all is the federal tax law that allows the artist to deduct material costs of the donation ($5.17), but a collector to deduct the entire cost of the donated artwork ($25,000) Link to the articles below.

And yet, clearly there can be benefits for all involved. So here’s a possible solution. What if we, as artists, worked together? What if – after conditions were met (invitation, catalog, minimum price, collector’s contact info) – we purchased each other’s work prior to the auction we were all going to participate in and then donated the pieces we purchased? That way, the organization had the art they requested and we were willing to donate, and we got the tax break we weren’t otherwise able to receive because we were donating purchased work at full value rather than for the value of materials?

How have you handled requests for charitable giving in the past? Has it worked for you? In an ideal world, what would you like to see happen? Send me your thoughts on this heated topic.

Exposure: The ugly myth, Fine Art Views, Jack White, May 6, 2011

Donating work for charity has a downside for artists. NYTimes, May 28, 2006, Carol Kino

You promise exposure, we want to see results, Art Biz Blog, Alyson Stanfield

Charity auctions that don’t penalize artists, Huffington Post, Daniel Grant, July 21, 2010

The problem with donating art and the solution, Maria Brophy blog

No, I will not donate to your auction, Joanne Mattera Blog

Art Market Analysis: Who benefits from charity auctions?, The Art Newspaper, Sarah Douglas, Issue 227, Sept. 201

Educate those who ask for donations of your art, Art Biz Blog, Alyson Stanfield, Guest blogger: Fiona Purdy

Letter for responding to donation requests, Art Biz Blog, Alyson Stanfield

Category: Donations
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