The phone call from a worthy cause: “We are having an auction to raise funds for charity, and we want you and any artist you know to donate work. The exposure will be great for you. You can deduct the donation from your taxes.” (The allowed deduction is for of materials only, hardly any of the charities understand this when they decide to have an art auction, nor do they consider minimum bids, or sharing proceeds with the artists.)
Of all the artists I have known in 30-plus years of gallery work and being an artist, I only know of one who made a later sale from this kind of exposure.
A disheartening experiences came fairly early in my career, I framed and donated a piece of art for a charity auction. A couple of years later I found it in a thrift shop: it was priced at less than a quarter of the frame cost.
Most people go to art auctions looking for a bargain. When artists are in the habit of donating artwork collectors tend to wait for the next auction rather than buy from the artist or from a gallery. That undercuts the artist’s market, and devalues the prices people have already paid.
Artists can only deduct the cost of the materials from their taxes, nothing for their time and effort. However, someone who purchases a work of art and donates it can deduct its value under certain conditions.
What would benefit both the charity and the artist? Generally, donating money or time is a better option for the artist. Many charities need workers, and considering how much time is involved in creating art pieces giving time is a good option. Meeting people and working together for a cause is rewarding, and studio time can be a lonely time.
Other options might be to give an art lesson, or a dinner with the artist and a tour of his studio or art collection, or perhaps a private guided tour to a new art show. Then the artist gets to spend some time with someone who has an interest in art that may lead to sales in the future, and it helps the charity.
So, do I donate charity art to auctions? Very rarely, and I try to focus any of my efforts on one or two causes. My past experiences and those of my fellow artists lead me to believe that it is not the best way to donate, but there are exceptions, and those exceptions are few and far between.
Anita Eaton is a painter, printmaker and potter in Wenatchee. She regularly donates time at the Wenatchee Valley College art studio.