Last week I had a post about my problem with organizations asking artists to donate work and then not offering any compensation. I deleted the post because I realized I needed to ask the specific organization that had asked me to donate a few questions first.
Here are the details:
I was mailed a canvas and asked to create something on it. Postage was paid to send it back. I was cool with that....it was small and they supplied the bulk of the materials. I was questioning why we were supposed to sign it on the back since this was supposed to be good exposure for us. How is that possible if they do not know who made it?
2nd bone of contention was, they also asked me personally for a 'wow' piece. I called them and talked about this and had a few emails over it. They wanted a mixed media piece. Either something I already had or to make something. Again, sign it on the back. I was promised this would be good for me. Good exposure. When I asked them how is it good exposure when no one will even know I made anything, I was told ' trust me, this will be good for you'. I read in their email that many emerging artists were pooled together to donate works and I wrongly assumed that this meant the event was mostly about emerging artists. I believe they do believe everything they are saying; I did not get the feeling they were purposely out to screw artists.
In the past I have donated to a college and got zero exposure. I did donate to an art organization in Burlington last year, told I would get good exposure and the woman at least kept her word as she used a photo of the piece and my name in the advertisement for the event (although I never saw any results personally I still felt good for donating a small piece). So why did I say yes to this new place? Because I was naive and gullible. Because, like many emerging artists, you get it in your head that ANY possibility of exposure is better than none. You get it in your head that you have to play it by the rules that have already been laid out. The next 10 years of your life it seems is already planned by the art establishment on how you have to go about 'making it'. When I asked a professional gallery owner/artist his thoughts he said never EVER give your work away as it diminishes the perceived value of your work and your self. Unless I really believe in the cause, and I would add: unless I am already making a great living and can afford to give something away I have no business doing that.
So. This weekend I wrote a fairly long letter to the art director of the place in question. Yesterday I got two responses. A very succinct one from her that did not address any of my questions and a long one from someone that is lower on the art chain. She did a better job of answering some questions and did say that the art director was 'confused' by my 'emotional' letter. No one addressed my direct question of why the artists are not given a commission for their works that are going to be auctioned. Personally, I do not think it is out of line to suggest/ask for compensation. I have seen a few forums online where people discuss this and say there are some places that finally 'woke up' and do in fact buy the art outright first or compensate them after the fundraiser/auction.
I was given a long list of where the money goes. Most of it goes to community projects, but they do use it for their own gallery and keeping things going. I say, if you are charging $175 a head and this is a 25-30 yr old gig that is very successful (they go on and on about how successful this is and did some name dropping of artists that have participated or shown works in their gallery as if because they showed works there that helped the artist get big? I don't think so), I am going to assume they are getting big checks from some big spenders. Big contributions. Not that the art that is auctioned all goes for big bucks, but I know they are making some dough. Is it really too much to ask to give an artist 30 or 40% commission?
Another question they never addressed was why the artist has to pay $50 to show up for this gig. Yes, thank you for not making us pay the whole $175, but come on, can ya give us that? It almost feels like being charged to go to a gallery that is having a show where you have a piece being exhibited. Add that on top of gas to drive down there and a place to stay and its not an option.
As far as the 'exposure', in this letter I was told that no one can promise anything. Funny, they promised me earlier it would be GREAT exposure. What, would I be listed on their website? I compared that to a pebble in the ocean. They explained their reasoning for artists not signing the work on the front. That was because some big named artists are making canvases too and they don't want people picking the works by the 'somebodies' for a value call.
All in all, I would say they were polite. They extended an invitation to submit to their call for emerging artists. They complimented my work, said they believed I was talented and will find my audience.
I can see how naive I am now. To think I could tackle such a rock solid organization. I'm probably the only artist that has ever questioned them on this. This event has worked well for them for many years. They have no reason to change it. They could not even hear or see what I was asking. I brought up the compensation thing and the price of admission question to them in two more letters yesterday and still, they never ever addressed it AT ALL. It makes me question myself for a minute. It confuses ME. Am I missing something?
The point I am trying to make is, until artists start to ask questions and refuse to be part of the problem, how will anything ever change? Am I against 'donating'? Perhaps the question is when is it appropriate and when isn't it? I know for a fact many artists really aren't in a position to be giving works away for free and yet they do it. I can't say what their reasons are but I can assume many hope for some sort of recognition/sales in exchange for their efforts.
Bottom line, if you want to donate great. If you want someone to donate for a cause great, just don't try to sell 'exposure' and hype about it. Both the organization and the artist need to be honest and clear in what they want.