Pay The Artist



"Don't say the 'e' word!" thundered Jeff Martin when I uttered the word exposure.

It heralded my initiation into the world of local visual arts in 2005. At that time, Jeff (known in some circles as "The Art Fist") ran the J. Martin Gallery at the gateway to Fountain Square and had co-founded Primary Colours a few years earlier.

Jeff's point was that most artists are professionals who should be paid for their time and effort. It's a point that still riles many local artists, especially when approached by well-meaning charities who need items for a silent auction for their upcoming fundraiser.

Many times the charity organizer naïvely believes that the artist will donate work in hopes that its sale will garner him or her great exposure to event patrons.

This thinking bears a few fallacies.

First, according the good folks at the IRS, the value of the artist's donation is not the sale price of the work, but only the cost of materials. I made a quick online shopping trip for 2-ounce tubes of basic colors (red, yellow, blue, black, and white), stretched and primed 24 by 36-inch canvas, and a basic set of 12 brushes. The cost was $62.08 before tax. That's realistically a minimum you might be able to claim.

Compare that to a base sale price of $300 to upwards of a thou or two, and you might start to understand the artists' indignation. When those savvy artists ask what the split will be, the organizer might snort, "Well, we thought you'd want to donate all the proceeds to our worthy cause."

And as for exposure, any well-run fundraiser focuses on one thing: the cause at hand. The donated artwork often sits as second banana along with that Colts special team player signed football and suite tickets at the Track for Tuesday practice.

And far too many times the charity doesn't even follow up to share the buyer's information with the artist much less properly display information about the artist when displaying the piece.

So I make the appeal to nonprofit and charities:

   ·Find artists who already have an affinity with your cause. You're much more likely to get them to donate. In some cases, they'll even have older inventory that they may gladly donate for free.
   ·Be understanding when approaching artists (and musicians for that matter) to donate their time and talent to their cause.
   ·Give the artists a cut from the sale and ask them to set the minimum bid on an auction.
   ·Ask them for an artist statement and any promotional materials to display with the work.
   ·Invite them to your event and comp them the price of admission.
   ·Follow up and provide them with the name and contact information of the buyer.

The Indianapolis Artists and Dealers Association (IDADA) posts a great resource for artists and those organizations looking to feature them. Please refer to it so that you can support your local artists as they support you.

That's good exposure for everyone.

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