Art and charity make cosy bedfellows and the relationships between them are blooming over the years. For example, the (Red) Auction at Sotheby’s in New York, organised by Damien Hirst and U2 frontman Bono, raised over $42m (£21m) for Aids programmes and demonstrated the extraordinary level at which the art world can contribute to charitable causes.
But size isn’t everything, as fundraising officer at War ChildWar Child – a charity working to help children affected by war – Sara Bowcutt recalls of her first experience of art and charity. One of her first tasks was to sell works donated by Damien Hirst and British surrealist painter Patrick Hughes. “My background is in corporate fundraising but I love contemporary art,” she says. “Holding paintings by such famous artists was fantastic. I felt a bit scared.” The artworks were created live at a War Child fundraising evening in the Saatchi Gallery in 1995, organised by the charity’s founder, Brian Eno. Hirst created a series of Spin Paintings in a small room while Hughes worked on ghost drawings. At the end of the party, the works were taken back to War Child’s offices with a remit that they should be sold whenever a funding gap arose. Since then, the charity has offered a handful through online auction site eBay. “Doing it this way was a bit edgy, a bit different – like us,” says Bowcutt. While selling online is easy and inexpensive, it is open to debate whether a traditional auction house would attract higher prices.
Hospital trusts also have an historical connection with art. The Paintings in Hospitals charity, set up in 1959, has 4,200 pieces by well-known artists that it loans out. Some medical institutions invest heavily in art. Art curators within hospitals usually make the decisions about the major purchases, so it’s less common for the fundraisers to work directly with artists.
Furthermore, holding an art auction is an excellent way for non-profits to raise money, for artists and art-related businesses to publicize their art, products or services, and for bidders to buy quality art at reasonable prices.
Charitable donations of artwork can create a positive impact where it matters
Nonprofits and charity organizations often look to artists and other creatives to donate artwork. If you’re an artist, pay attention. There are ways to maximize both your contribution and ensure that you are making informed decisions about the future of your business. Make sure your charitable contribution goes the furthest by keeping these things in mind:
Donate Something Awesome
The item you choose to donate should be something you’re excited about and brings you pride. Your selection will be a representation to all those attending about your quality of work and generosity. Think carefully about what you donate, but know that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece you’ve poured thousands of hours into. Inquire about what other types of art will be featured and try to get a handle on the show’s aesthetic. Perhaps you even have a piece that is topically related to the cause—for example, depictions of nature for an environmental charity.
Do Your Research
Make sure your generosity is informed. To ensure an organization will make the most of your donation, use a website like Charity WatchCharity Watch or Charity NavigatorCharity Navigator to learn more about them. These resources provide insight into charities’ internal structure and spending. Taking the time to look into a charities’ practices is an important part of effective philanthropy. In addition, research the event itself. Don’t hesitate to ask the organizers about everything from the expected attendance to how your work will be displayed.
Use It for Feedback
In some ways, the pressure is off when it comes to donating artwork. If you are an early career artist, use this opportunity to explore how people respond to your work. If you are more established, use it as an opportunity to try out a new aesthetic on a group of interested buyers. Donating artwork can give you a chance to experiment, increase word-of-mouth exposure, and gain feedback from a large group of people. In fact, donating artwork was the launching ground for artist Anne Marie ZanettiAnne Marie Zanetti!
Price it Right
Pricing items for a charity auction can be challenging. It can be a blow to your ego to see empty bid sheets and unsold inventory to collect at the end of the night. You’ll want to set the price low enough to invite the first bids, but high enough that the work isn’t undervalued.
Tip: In general, price the item at or near the market price and rely on a sense of competition and charity to open people’s wallets. It’s also a good idea to ask those coordinating the auction about a suggested price range. Remember, they also want your piece to sell for the highest possible price!
Capitalize on Promotion
There’s a reason you don’t see many artists anonymously donating original works of art. Charities rely on your art to help promote the event, and it’s okay for the event to promote your art! Donating art is an opportunity to grow your audience. That’s part of what makes collaboration between artists and charitable organizations so rewarding. The cause your art is supporting also communicates to potential patrons that you share common values. Even if they don’t win a bidding war over your piece, they’ll certainly recognize your work in a gallery or at an art fair in the future.
Tip: While many organizations promise exposure for donations, make sure you get specifics on how this will happen and how you can help. Ask about their mailing list, if they need any images for promotional materials, and send them all the links to your website and places that their attendees can find out more about you.
Local charities often have the greatest need for donors and serve those in your immediate community. You may even have firsthand knowledge about their impact, so this can be a good way to contribute to something you’re really passionate about. In addition, local organizations often prefer to feature artists who hail from the area.
Don’t be afraid to use a strategic approach to charitable giving. Inquire if you can get the contact details of the buyer from the organization from which you donated. Attend the event if possible and network with those in attendance. While there, be open to the feedback you hear (and bask in the compliments). Above all, know that you’re giving back to something you care about and take pride in knowing that you’re making a difference. There is great joy in helping.
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