Artist or Philanthropist?

I’m often asked to donate work and it’s always for a good cause – support for the art department at a school, charities, an open access workshop, even the local art gallery.
Recently I was asked to donate a work for a charity art auction. I don’t know this organisation, they have never shown any interest in my work and yet they feel comfortable asking me to donate to them – for no reason except that they’re a charity. The problem with this is that artists never make much money and yet they’re always being asked to give up their art, time, materials, etc. for free.

For example, a demo or a talk will involve giving up a working day in the studio, in addition to the preparation time. I’m often told that, in lieu of a fee, I may make some sales – yes, possibly but in my experience most people aren’t there to buy work but to learn.

And when donating a piece to a charity auction, they often say it will raise your profile – well, not if I’m giving the work away for free. What gallery would be happy to work with someone who does that? And what if the artwork sells for less than the going price or even not at all? What does that say about you?

A colleague of mine donated a framed print to a fund-raising auction recently – it didn’t even raise the money that she’d spent on the frame. She’d have been better off selling the work for the full price, and donating some of the money back to the charity. And this all took place in a very prosperous part of London, with lots of well-heeled attendees.
And who was the lucky winner who got this work at a knocked down price? Well, clearly it was someone who could afford to buy the work at the full price. And yet the idea persists that the major donor in this scenario is the buyer of this bargain, and not my artist friend…

And what about the charity? All the people who work there are no doubt on a salary – are they being asked to donate a days income to the cause, like me? And I’m pretty sure that the marquee firm, the catering company and the printers of the catalogue or programme will all get their money. As usual, it seems that everyone associated with the event will get paid – just not the artist.

I know it’s difficult to say no when asked to contribute to a fundraising activity, but working in the studio provides me with my only source of income and if I’m not there, then my income suffers.
If it’s an organisation that I’m involved in, or a cause I am particularly sympathetic to, then of course I’m more than happy to help out.
But otherwise, I try to imagine that I’m a dental surgeon being asked to do a root canal treatment for free, and then I say sorry but no.
Just keep channeling that inner dentist…


2 thoughts on “Artist or Philanthropist?

  1. I agree with you. It's a very good point – if that piece of art represents a day's work, then it is too much to give.
    You could offer some nice, saleable cards with small repro prints of your work…
    Then give a standard polite refusal – it is a valuable item and you can not afford to donate it.
    If you feel interested in the charity, of course there's nothing to stop you offering a %age donation, from sales of certain prints or reproductions…
    I think you are right not to beat yourself up over it and to do as other professionals would do – if you can't afford to do it, say a polite "No".
    And move on…

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