Charity auctions frequently ask artists for donations. It is a common request as every community has many charities who rely on events where donated items, including art, are auctioned to attendees.

Every artist I know struggles with this request. Artists are a generous lot, on the whole, and want to share their art and help out their community fundraisers. But invariably the donated art does not sell for its retail value and oftentimes for much less.

If the artist is keen on supporting a charity, it makes more sense for the artist to sell a work at its stipulated price and then donate the funds to the charity, for which the artist will get a tax receipt for their donation.

Mat Gleason, art critic with the Coagula Art Journal, pulls no punches in his article, The Career Benefits of Boycotting Charity Art Auctions. Mat’s manifesto calls for a complete boycott of such events. However, I feel that in the spirit of supporting a worthwhile cause and helping to create a fun event, artists considering donating to an event should follow these tips:

  • Ask to set a reserve bid for your artwork. This will ensure your artwork doesn’t get low-balled.
  • Ask what other artists have donated. Being in the company of other high-profile artists is a great perk in itself.
  • Ask if the event has an auctioneer. This is really the only way your art will actually raise some good money for the event. At a silent auction where guests walk around the room and place bids themselves, you can expect that your art won’t go for much more than the reserve bid.
  • Ask for a share of the proceeds of the sale. Explain to the organizers that this is the only way you can afford to donate.
  • Ask for a ticket to the event. You’ll have a chance to network and assess whether you want to donate to the event next year. You’ll also see what the art actually sells for.

The Timeraiser

Personally, the only auctions where I have had significant works of art is the Timeraiser. Timeraiser is supported by the Framework Foundation which purchases art from the artists. The art is then placed on auction for hours bid by guests who commit to volunteer for a local charity. The Timeraiser connects art lovers and philanthropy while supporting local artists – a great concept!

photograph of vancouver timeraiser charity event in 2008 with artist ellen scobie and volunteer katie green

Left: Kicking off a great tradition — the First Vancouver Timeraiser (2008). Right: Ellen Scobie and Katie Green with “Sacks of Yesterdays”, a photo-based artwork of Vancouver parks.

I have been fortunate to participate 3 times in Timeraiser events and would not hesitate to participate again. Katie Green (@stylepilgrim) who bid 150 hours for my art, Sacks of Yesterdays, at the 2008 Vancouver Timeraiser, recently spoke about her experience in the Globe & Mail.

I love to attend the Timeraiser, which is an energetic and lively event, with the added bonus of actually meeting the people who win my art. In 2011, as an added benefit, I picked up a great commission for a custom artwork!

Bid with your heart

Art auctions are not necessarily bad for the artist, as long as he or she asks upfront what the terms are. Events like the Timeraiser, which actually pay the artist for their work, are the best model of all!

For those of you bidding at charity art auctions, please remember the donation represents a significant gift from the artist, and bid with your heart.