Thursday, July 27, 2006

Open-Thread Thursday: Donating to Benefits

This issue has been touched upon here from time to time (and please point to any posts elsewhere dealing with this topic), but today I thought it's a good time to explore it indepth. There are about 20 benefits each year I know of that request donations from emerging artists in New York City alone. I don't want to single any out or have this turn into a gripe session about individual benefits; the organizations I'm thinking of that hold the benefits vary greatly and all are entitled to ask for donations to support the work they do (some count on such benefits to stay afloat). But every year I hear enough questions about benefits in general that I hope we might shed some light on them here.

Full disclosure: I often buy at benefits (primarily to support the organization, but secondarily because my art buying budget is a bit tight at the moment), and I encourage others to as well. Usually the events are fun, and I always discover a new favorite from among the artists I wasn't familiar with. But this thread will focus on such benefits from the artist's point of view, especially the emerging artist. All opinions below are mine and, yes, open to debate:

Why donate?
First and foremost, it's good karma. Helping an organization that hosts benefits (most of which are dedicated to helping emerging artists) reflects well on you. Secondly, it's exposure and can result in getting your work into a collection that opens other doors (I automatically pay more attention to the artists whose work I get in benefits). At the very least it puts your name on that organization's radar. Third, it can be fun.

What can you deduct?
There are more questions than answers to be found on whether you can deduct such donations from your taxable income earned from artistic activity.

On one hand, available information suggests that although there's a bill before Congress (the Artists Fair Market Value Deduction Bill) to address the pathetic current standards for artists donating work, it is only applicable to donations to IRS-recongized museums. On the other hand, the Tax Relief Act of 2005 (passed by the Senate in late 2005) seems to go futher:
The Senate bill would allow artists to deduct the fair market value of a donation of tangible work that they have created. Living writers, musicians, artists and scholars who donate their work to a charitable cause would earn a tax deduction based on full fair market value. Currently such work receives only a deduction based on the cost of materials unless it is donated posthumously by the estates. The new provision, which has been long supported by arts organizations, would serve the public interest in spurring the donation of art to collecting and educational organizations that use art in their charitable mission. It would also address the inequity of current law with respect to artists vis a vis other donors.
I'm a bit confused on whether the first bill is actually part of the second one and where either of them stands. Anyone out there know?

What to donate?
This is the question I hear most often. Generally what one donates should be appropriate for the benefit in question (i.e., if all the other artists are donating framed work, you don't want yours to be the only one pinned to the wall [unless that's the intentional installation of that piece]...or you don't want to have the value of the next closest piece to yours be 1/10th the price [that suggests desperation for attention]).

You do, however, want your piece to stand out. Especially for the lottery-style benefits. You want the piece you donated to be one of the first ones selected. So donate something strong and present it well. I'd also recommend donating a signature piece. With 100 other pieces competing for attention, this is not the best venue in which to exhibit something new, IMO (unless you're sure it represents the direction you'll be taking from this point forward). Your biggest reward (in addition to the karma) here is reinforcing your name/work recognition in the consciousness of collectors. This is not the time to send mixed messages.

How often should one donate?
I tend to read through the lists of artists donating to most benefits, even if I can't attend them all, so I offer the same advice here I do for group exhibitions: overexposure can be a problem. Organizations who hold benefits might not like me saying this, but I do begin to associate a negative with artists whose work appears in every benefit out there. I'd recommend no more than three benefits a year (and even that is rather generous if your work is very time consuming). That doesn't mean you can't rotate each year and still support the wide array of organizations, but I'd recommend not becoming the "benefit artist."

Should I put benefits on my resume?
We went over this on the bio open thread. I say no, but the questions got very specific (e.g., what if the work is on display for weeks in a prestigious location, what if the benefit is curated, etc.). My sense of this still is that listing benefits on your bio looks like padding.

What are the downsides of donating to benefits?
First and foremost is you're giving away work. As much as I encourage artists to donate something that will stand out, that's pretty damn easy for me to say, I know. Secondly, and perhaps more harmful, ironically, is that sometimes the work comes back. Here you were being generous, and the piece didn't sell. This is a risk you take, unfortunately, but, again, if you donate something special, the odds of this are not as great. I've seen very successful artists' work in benefits not sell, though, so I wouldn't let it discourage you too much. Sometimes it's more a reflection of how many people bought tickets or how well-organized the benefit was. Also, many benefits in NYC are hung salon style, so you're not likely to get your ideal installation for the work. You have to let that go. The organizers might be able to accomdate some requests, but probably won't have the time to consult one-on-one with each artist involved.

Those are just some basic ideas to get the ball rolling. What advice do you, as collectors or artists, have for artists considering donating a piece to a benefit?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i also see the same "names" on each and every benefit, and personally find it gruesome, and i absolutely do not put them on my resume, artists who do that are just padding, like putting art fairs on your resume(unless its a one person show at an art fair in a booth or special project). i give most of the time, i am asked about 3 times a year, and i am happy to do it, i give work that will not necessarily sell, like a small drawing or print, work that will not compete with whats being sold elsewhere. i know for a lot of young or underexposed artists its tempting to see your name on these lists, but if the benefit is in a high end or blue chip gallery i find it awful that artists then put this on their resume, like they were in a group show there, i remember some years ago, there was a big benefit for Pat Hearn at her gallery after she died, and a lot of artists jumped at the chance to show there at that benefit, it was a free for all, and i noticed that it was put on resumes, i just dont this practice is good.

7/27/2006 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger painterdog said...

have they no shame?
that is so sad, putting a deceased persons benefit on your resume.

7/27/2006 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous bnonymous said...

I think Ed's advice is so on the nose, that it might stifle discussion. My only quibble is wondering how many people are really in danger of being overexposed? I wish I had that problem.

7/27/2006 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger The Artist Extraordinaire said...

I think a lot of people put benefit auctions on their CV out of naivety, not intending it as padding.

A lot of places put together really good benefit auctions. They are also really good places to get good art for a good price. Especially for those with a limited budget to collect. In fact, I would say people that like art but don’t particularly collect it, would be ten times more likely to get something at a benefit auction than in a gallery. Especially if said gallery is less established.

It is easy to get burned by benefit auctions. So I am very careful about what I give work to. I don’t think it is unfair to request a contract, or some such document that records what you have given. It is also fair to want the contact info of who bought your work. It turned alright in the end for me, but not others, with an auction once. There was no loan agreement or any sort of paperwork when the works were dropped off at the organizers. There was a promise of artists receiving some sort of info on who purchased the work that never materialized. Luckily for me the person who got my piece I know very well, and owns other work of mine, so I don’t have to lay awake at night wondering what become of it.

So if you give, give to something you believe in. And also to a benefit that is well organized. If it is done poorly and you back out or pass, it is not a bad reflection on you, it is a bad reflection on the organizers.

7/27/2006 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger triple diesel said...

We did a benefit last year - our first time showing in a gallery - and noticed how the younger artists presented "significant" work and the older artists prints and small drawings. Do younger artists try harder? Or maybe older artists earn the privilege of donating minor work. They've paid their dues. Or maybe it's more pecuniary than that.

7/27/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

I get asked to donate to a LOT of benefits. I've been trying to keep the number of those I say "yes" to down, but I'm not at that magical number "3" yet. I do plan to alternate years with some of the benefits, which should help.

One problem is that once you get on certain lists, you start to get asked to participate in everything. I've been asked to donate to many organizations who I have no affiliation with whatsoever. These are usually easier to turn down than the ones I where there is a relationship.

7/27/2006 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...


is a benefit really a context you would be looking for new talent? I think many young artists consider this an opportunity for exposure (that often what they are told) but I have never really heard of the happening. Particularly because of the party type atmosphere that pervades these events - the art seems secondary. I'm all for supporting my local institutions - but with my eyes open.

The only thing that bugs me is their dual personality. At other times of the year, they treat young artists really bad - not available to talk, don't return emails, don't look at slides, even lying about being closed for the day! And then the benefit comes and they act like your best friend, I hate that.

7/27/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

is a benefit really a context you would be looking for new talent?

Yes, it is. Mostly it just confirms a sense I was already developing of an artist, but sometimes it's a new discovery for me. I've yet to make a call and offer an artist a show based on one, but it never really happens that way in any context.

7/27/2006 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

How many collectors donate 3 pieces a year?...of their best/favorite work?

7/27/2006 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My town has a time of year when artists are constantly asked to donate art. Some of these organizations have been interested and supportive all along, so I do not begrudge them.

But some organizations never come to the shows of the artists they ask work from; I get the feeling they do not even know what they are asking for. I never see them anywhere but they they are, once a year right on schedule, asking for the one thing artists have, art.

Artists often relate to the nature of the benefits or charities, knowing a bit already of what it is to do without dentistry or a decent place to live. And yes, they want exposure. But it would be nice if some of these organizations were interested in artists (and art) as more than just a cash cow.

7/27/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger tomversations said...

much good food for thought there about donating to art benefits. i'm one of the organizers of the open proposition artists for the bill of rights benefit show at the proposition a while back and since i have participated in many more -most recently the SAVI benefit for victims of domestic assault. they did something interesting which was to allow the artists to set the percentage of the funds that would be donated from the sales of their work. the result? high quality work and good support by the artists involved.

im currently doing a small project to benefit the NRDC and send funds their way. it's all online and through blogs. if you like i can send you the write up. for now here is the url and a short bit about what im doing. thanks much. -tom

Help Tom Save the Planet with Post-It Art:
Tom Schreiber, a nyc artist who often works with everyday materials to communicate with people, wanted to make it easy, fun and colorful for more people to support the great work of the NRDC while enjoying his art. 75% of the final sale price of these 3-inch Post-Its drawings will support the Natural Resources Defense Council.;=&id;=14165&status;=102&type;=NONPROFIT&itemId;=&searchString;=tomversations&pageSize;=10&pageIndex;=1&sortOrder;=11

7/27/2006 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I mentioned this tangentially on my blog a while back. I'm troubled that collectors can get a market-value tax deduction while artists can only deduct the cost of materials. It reduces the artist's contribution to the level of making a bundt cake for the charity bake sale.

7/27/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. I like the idea of collecting artwork through benefits, simply because the money often goes to a good cause. I'm curious though, is there a list of benefits where one could purchase art?

7/27/2006 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Nothing shows what the world thinks of artists like benefit's It's like artist's were born with an S on thier forehead that stands for sucker or starve or suffer.

I have donated and I sort of wished i had done it more, but there is just something very wrong about the whole thing. I mean you feel like you can't say no.

7/27/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

"I'm troubled that collectors can get a market-value tax deduction while artists can only deduct the cost of materials."

Lisa, that double standard is a really big deal. Nothing ever really benefits the artist - ever, while collectors (who are rich) seem to get all the breaks. Why don't they ask collectors to donate something from their collection? If I donate a painting, I am not only losing the cost of materials, I am losing the money I would get from a real sale. I don;t think these places should lean so heavily on the people who have the least amount of money - feels like they are preying on desperation.

7/27/2006 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I once worked for a small arts nonprofit, and we stopped doing our benefit auction because it's such an unfair setup. The materials v. sales thing is just demeaning to artists, and we couldn't feel good about taking part in it anymore. We decided to do a different kind of event, made more money, felt better about ourselves. There was lots of thanks from artists who were leaned upon heavily year after year. No artist complained about the "missed opportunity".

On the other hand, I have donated work to organizations I care a lot about. It's giving. It's what I have to give. I have no money or time because I am an artist, but I do have a drawing. I have never looked at it in terms of my career, have never tried to parlay it into anything bigger. It's just a gift.

I can't imagine thinking about such a horrible finanical deal in terms of my career. It would make me really bitter and angry.

7/27/2006 06:35:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

There are a number of benefits that I get asked to donate work to. Whether I do, and if so what I give, depend on a few factors. One place in particular, like the one tomv mentions above, asks the artist how they would like to split the funds. They also provide the artist w/ the name and contact info of the buyer. To me that shows some respect for the artists' work, so I give them something significant and split the funds 50/50. It pretty much always sells, though usually for less than it would through a gallery, but at least everyone benefits from the event and it's for a good cause. Other places that don't offer to split the funds, but where the cause is something I want to support, will get something smaller, maybe a work on paper.

A number of years ago I was at a party at a mcmansion up in Malibu (some friends of my sister, I think), and the woman who lived there asked me to donate a painting to some benefit she was involved in. She told me how it was such a great cause, that she was a big supporter of artists (not evident from the interior-designer stuff in her home, for sure) and how not only that, it was ... tax deductible!

I explained the tax law to her and said, "I'll tell you what. If you truly believe in this cause here's an idea of how you can really help it. Buy the painting from me at full price. Donate the painting to the auction and get a tax deduction for the amount you paid. I'll take the money you pay me for the painting, and I'll donate that to the benefit, which I'll deduct from my taxes. Not only does your cause get a lot more money, but we both get tax deductions." I'll let you guess whether she believed in her cause enough to do this.

7/27/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one question; do people who volunteer their time to organizations such as "Habitat for Humanity" get tax deductions? Our time is worth money too isn't it? Is that extremely different than donated artwork?

7/27/2006 08:36:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

I agree w/ Lisa and chrisjag's comments.

I won't donate unless I get atleast 30% of the sale (unless it's an amazing organization that I've worked with before and had a good experience.) It's just a way for collectors to get decent art for a lot less and write it off. Most benefits in my area are silent auctions and the prices start at about 1/3 of retail.
I have also experienced the dual personality thing...they love you and call you to get your piece in and you're so great...right up until the event and then you try to follow up to see if your piece sold and suddenly there's no one to talk to...I realize this is the organizers issues and we can choose not to work with them again-it just bites that there is sometimes no appreciation after they get their paws on your work. Artists-be discerning and yes, there is some trial and error like anything...but don't nix the idea all together.

The positives:
exposure to new collectors/dealers/curators that may lead to other exhibition opportunities (it does happen)
helping a truly deserving cause

7/27/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

do people who volunteer their time to organizations such as "Habitat for Humanity" get tax deductions? Our time is worth money too isn't it? Is that extremely different than donated artwork?

Anon, the issue, for me at least, is not whether the time I put into my artwork is worth money. The problem is that some collector can donate a painting and claim it's full value as a tax deduction, but the person who created it can't. It's the same painting. If, in the example you give, your employer could deduct the time you donate to Habitat but you couldn't, then I'd say we're talking about the same issue.

7/27/2006 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. Well David if that's the case then I can see your point, although US tax laws are rife with contraditctions and obtuse logic. I get the sense, however, that other posters on this thread are not objecting to this inequity, but something rather different. It sounds as if the very idea of charity is being frowned upon for some reason; In my mind donating, be it artwork, time or anything else is about philanthropy and not tax breaks. And yes I am a collector, have donated art work, time and money in the past, and no, i am not wealthy.

Incidentally, many charitable organizations (such as the Gates foundation and other wealthy foundations) and private philanthropists are constantly asked for donations and for sources of funding. The general public too. How many solicitations do you get in the mail from charities for example?

I don't really think artists are unique in being solicited for what amounts to a donation.

7/27/2006 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger Donn Zaretsky said...


The provision you mention from the Senate bill didn't make into the final version that was signed into law in May. So artists are unfortunately stuck with a deduction equal to the cost of materials.

Donn Zaretsky
The Art Law Blog

7/27/2006 11:05:00 PM  
Anonymous houseofrats said...

I get asked to donate to a bunch of auctions every year--more than ten, I'd say, and I rarely donate anything. They are all good causes and everyone is nice and friendly...but I'd much rather make a cash donation to worthy cause. For one thing--I only make 6 or so pieces a year. Second of all--these institutions are taking advantage (naively or knowingly) of artists who feel pressured or desperate or feel they can't afford to offend the hosting institution. Established artists don't donate a major piece unless they are so wealthy they can afford to. Young artists who donate excellent work don't get much compensation and lose their best stuff this collectors some of whom are just bargain hunting. It devalues the work. There are better ways to get your work out there.
The whole tax thing is just shameful.

I agree that the positives include exposure and helping worthy causes (assuming artists research and find out how deserving they truly are...)--but karma? no way. Most artists are putting their heart and souls into their work. That's good karma enough. And the inverse is implied: that not donating is bad karma. Talk about pressuring someone!!!

7/28/2006 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Anonymous, I don't think the idea of charity is being frowned upon here. It's that the artist is asking to pony up an asset without being able to claim it as an asset. Charity is not all about altruism--it's more like one hand washing the other. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, otherwise it wouldn't work.

Someone donates an asset, labor (yes, this is tax deductable), or cash, and in return gets two things. A good feeling and a tax deduction for the amount donated.

An artist donates a drawing that would sell for $1000 in a gallery. To the artist, then, that drawing is a $500 or $400 asset. The drawing goes to auction, the artist is out that $4-500 asset, and gets to claim $28 in materials on her tax return.

Karma, shcmarma. Letting institutions guilt you into devaluing your work this way is bad karma. It perpetuates this weird relationship artists are supposed to have with their money. It's destabilizing, it's allowing Them to have control over You. I would rather donate $100 in cash, claim the $100 on my tax return, and engage in a fair trade that respects what I am giving. That is not always possible, and sometimes when I have a drawing and not $100 I'll give the drawing. But that's my choice to make.

7/28/2006 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I really deeply felt that given the current way things seem to work that it was very bad karma to feed into it. Artist's as a group are poor and using them like this is pretty wrong. Changing the law would at least be a symbolic victory since the value of deductions when you are poor is not much.

If I have money I just give to support the charity.

7/28/2006 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

The value of deductions when you file a Schedule C is impossible to underestimate. It's not symbolic at all.

7/28/2006 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

And the inverse is implied: that not donating is bad karma. Talk about pressuring someone!!!

I guess when I mentioned karma I meant that when you have no money to give and you give what you can knowing the minute return going in and being ok with it. Giving with no expectations in return to me, is good karma. I do see your point though and I do think it's bad to be guilted into giving or giving because you think it would be a detriment to your emerging career if you didn't...I've turned down many recently because I was spineless in the past.

As for devaluing the art/artist-I think it depends on the calibre of the benefit and the artwork donated...but, I see that point too and it does happen.

7/28/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

And the inverse is implied: that not donating is bad karma. Talk about pressuring someone!!!

Nonsense. It's no more bad karma to not donate art to an organization you respect than it is bad karma to not donate money to an organization you respect. The pressure you're sensing here is being applied only by you. Artists are fully within their rights (karmic rights and otherwise) to say they don't have anything available at the moment if asked for a donation.

None of that changes that fact, however, that organizations dedicated to helping emerging artists often depend on donations for their survival, so it shouldn't be seen as a selfish act on their part when they ask for donations.

7/28/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Let's just say that artist's have great karma. It's pretty easy for a fairly poor artist to give away a few thousnd dollars worth of stuff a year.

Is it even remotely possible that wealthy people will just donate to causes they believe in?

7/28/2006 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

time to call the karma police...

7/28/2006 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

i belive in karma. and i dont have to compare myself with other poor or rich people. whatever i do, because i believe it's right to do.
so donating something today it will come back to you one day with more and better.

7/28/2006 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Jen wrote,

"Giving with no expectations in return to me, is good karma."

Totally agreed. I have felt comfortable donating work despite the minute return because IMO it's important to give freely when you can.

My thing is that it's important to see that donating work is dicey/problematic going in, and to be clear about why you're giving. I personally wouldn't give with an expectation that it's good for your career or whatever, because professional expectations paired with a professionally disrespectful setup... it's just a recipe for resentment. Resentment ruins professional relationships.

Edward, I see your point about the organization's pov, but there are a lot of ways to make money. The year the organization I was working for quit the auction we almost doubled our money over previous years, everybody had more fun, and nobody resented anybody.

Organizations have karma, too.

7/28/2006 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Edward, I see your point about the organization's pov, but there are a lot of ways to make money.

Yes, but the benefits to artists getting on the organization's radar (although not always leading to something) can pay off as well.

The year the organization I was working for quit the auction we almost doubled our money over previous years, everybody had more fun, and nobody resented anybody.

How did they make money instead?

7/28/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

We charged a *lot* more for dinner, and the dinner ticket entered each person in a raffle for a small number of truly great paintings we purchased from artists, thanks to a donation from a supporter who hated the auction. Most of the artists understood the game and gave their fee back to the org. as a donation, and because the work was carefully chosen and the dinner ticket was a relative bargain if you wound up with a painting, we got a bigger crowd than usual. People had much more fun, felt better about the whole enterprise, no hurt feelings, more cash.

We were lucky enough to be able to do this--we had the capital to lay out, and wanted to change an event that nobody ever had fun at, and that never made that much money, but that generally caused bad feelings.

I see the idea of getting on an organization's radar, but would get so resentful if I personally entered into an auction with this frame of mind that I balk at using that as a rationale. YMMV.

7/28/2006 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

A couple of points. They have been well-covered here in a manner.
If one is donating to an organization that one respects, I think it benefits the artist and the organization to present top-shelf work. This isn't an obligation but a personal choice and a way of maintaining high matter what. Other wise, why donate?
The other point which I think is critical is getting a sense of how the gallery/organization treats artists. Tgis is trial and error.
I stopped giving work to a non-profit gallery because discontinued THE COURTESY of letting me know who got the work.
I have also stopped working with a commercial gallery for the same reason.

7/28/2006 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Corny said...

Suggestion: Maybe artists who are asked to donate to the same benefit could trade works and then give each others work so to take a tax write off for the full value of the donated work. The benefit organizations looking for donations could help hook up artists to facilitate the trades.

7/28/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

the benefits to artists getting on the organization's radar (although not always leading to something) can pay off as well.

It sounds like the organizations you're talking about must be arts-related in some way. The ones I've donated to out here include Venice Family Clinic, a school for inner city kids, and a fund for research into preventing blindness, among others. All good causes, but I can't think of any particular benefits to being on their radar. Unless they let me know when I'm driving too fast.

7/28/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

trade works and then give each others work so to take a tax write off

Corny, it's a creative idea, but check with a lawyer or an accountant before you try it. That sounds pretty similar to what the guys at Enron got into trouble for. Not that I'm suggesting your motives are the same, but still, be careful.

7/28/2006 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

The nasty little secret that no one wants to mention is that many of the committee members for these charity events are well-connected art collectors (the very folks who sit on local museum boards), and telling them no can have a negative impact on an artist's sales/career.

7/28/2006 09:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what really got me was when a particular well known charity got some press on theevent and the journalist gloried over the collectors and how great they were to buy the stuff.

First of all, the collectors got all of the work at a fraction of the cost. But most importantly, the collectors got the art, didn't they? WHO did the real giving? The artists! ...yet no mention of any of them.

7/28/2006 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The underbidder for a limited-edition photograph donated to a silent auction came to my gallery to buy another work in this edition a week after the benefit had taken place.

The work had been sold to the winning bidder at the benefit for an amount that was 20% higher than its retail price.

It was a source of satisfaction to both the artist and the gallery that her work was so well admired. It was also nice to be able to share this anecdote with prospective collectors of her work.

7/29/2006 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

A couple people have mentioned that artists use auctions to pad their resume. I always list my donation for the Art for Aids benefit because I see that as part of my support for the cause.

The organizers of that benefit in Pittsburgh do a stupendous job. It's held at the Carnegie Museum, with a Patron party to preview the donated works held at different locations every year. The artist gets tickets to both events and the organizers send you the patron's contact info. I would donate anyway; this is a cause I believe in. But it's a great party that I know I couldn't go to otherwise.

As for deductions, it is my understanding that manufacturers can only deduct the cost of materials for donated goods. The tax deduction for artists for donated goods is the same as for manufacturers. And I thought that collectors that purchase at benefits can only deduct the portion of the purchase price that is above the declared value of the work.

7/29/2006 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I always list my donation for the Art for Aids benefit because I see that as part of my support for the cause.

That's a good thing to point out, but I'm wondering if there's not some way to do it on a bio without listing it under "exhibitions"?

7/29/2006 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous jec said...

Lisa Hunter said: ...many of the committee members for these charity events are well-connected art collectors (the very folks who sit on local museum boards), and telling them no can have a negative impact on an artist's sales/career

I (an artist) am have sat on one such committee, albeit for a small non-profit, and there were no collectors in our group. I think that even when these people are involved on a benefit committee, they are pretty removed from back and forth with artists. This stuff is generally handled by staff, and the big name committee members are not likely to be aware of who has said yes or no until the final list is out.

The exception I could see to this (maybe) is if a collector has a close relationship with an artist (or their gallery), and specifically nominated that artist with the belief that said artist would agree. I imagine this happening more with really big-name artists. Even then, I'm not sure the collector would hold it against the artist.

The scenario where I think it could possibly hurt the artist to refuse is where the arts organization holding the benefit has offered great opportunities to the artist in the past and feels like the artist is under some unwritten obligation to give back. In that case, the organization might feel slighted by a "no" and hold it against the artist. I'm not saying they would, but they might.

7/29/2006 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I thought that collectors that purchase at benefits can only deduct the portion of the purchase price that is above the declared value of the work.

Yes, but collectors who donate works can deduct the full market value.

Also, I suppose there are some artists who are manufacturers, in the sense that they just keep making the same painting (etc.) over and over again. But for most of us the process is about creating a unique object, with lots of R&D.; More like intellectual property than a manufactured item. I suppose it would be like an author donating all the proceeds from their book to a charity. I have no idea what the tax law about that is.

7/29/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Edward said That's a good thing to point out, but I'm wondering if there's not some way to do it on a bio without listing it under "exhibitions"?
Well, that would make sense if the cause informed your art. What about a sub-heading in your resume? How about Karmic Accumulation Endeavors

David said Also, I suppose there are some artists who are manufacturers
In the broadest sense, we are all manufacturers. Let's put it this way; any industry that donates to a charitable cause can only deduct the market value of the goods donated. Retailers that donate to a charitable cause can only deduct their cost for the goods. An individual that donates goods to a charitable cause deducts the fair market value of the goods. Where's the charity if you're not giving something up? That's why you only donate to causes that you believe in and never expect anything back for it.

Intellectual property rights is a red herring here. Owning, buying or trading a painting does not impinge on intellectual property rights.

7/29/2006 07:06:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Intellectual property rights is a red herring here. Owning, buying or trading a painting does not impinge on intellectual property rights.

I think of it more as a white elephant, and sometimes as a pink flamingo.

I didn't say (and I don't think in any way implied) that intellectual property rights were being impinged on. While in the broadest sense I suppose you could call artists manufacturers, there are many senses in which they're not. You could really go wild with this one and talk about how a songwriter manufactures a song, but what's the point? All I was saying is that if an artist decides to give up a painting by donating it to charity, they should be able to claim the same value for it, for tax purposes, as a collector who donates the same painting. The inequality of the situation hasn't stopped me from donating work to causes I believe in. And it's certainly not about expecting anything back (not even good karma). It would just be nice if the law were more fair.

7/29/2006 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Charles Hankin said...

If an artist supports a cause then the good will is what is given. The value is in the support. Most artists that I know don't earn enough to take deductions anyway. Even if it is a C-3 business deduction it doesen't save much. The real debate is how the art given is seen by those purchasing it. Most are not collectors and may end up throwing it away after they loose interest in it. The money they spend is more about supporting the orgianization then loving the art. The art is then just a fancy party favor. If a musician gives tickets to a performance there is value exchanged and earnings expected. Artists have no expectation that any sales will be gained by a donation.

7/31/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous BPJ said...

As a collector and lawyer, I have long thought it strange that collectors can deduct the full value, while artists could only deduct the cost of materials. I'm trying to figure out WHY the IRS took this position. The best theory I can come up with (playing devil's advocate) is that they think an artist who donates a work to a museum gains something in return: he/she is now "an artist in the permanent collection of X Museum." Arguably, the artist's other works increase in value. The more prestigious the museum, the greater the value to the artist of being in that collection.
If so, then should the artist get the full deduction? Does any of this apply to collectors, whose remaining collection perhaps becomes more prestigious because of the association with the museum? ("Oh, you know, he collects museum quality work.")
It seems perhaps that the argument is stronger for the artist to deduct the full market value in contributing art to an auction to benefit a charity, because normally the slight advantage to the artist of having his/her work briefly seen by some well-off people at an auction would be less than the advantage of being in a prestigious museum collection.
It may sound as if I'm endorsing the IRS policy; actually, I'm not. I am saying that it probably does have some logic to it. However, I think all those considerations are outweighed by two policy arguments: first we want to encourage support of charities, and museums (who often have limited acquisition funds); second, if we want to be a society which encourages creative activity, then we need to recognize that most artists are not rolling in money, and that it's OK if the effect of the tax code occasionally throws an artist a (theoretical) "bonus."

7/31/2006 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

normally the slight advantage to the artist of having his/her work briefly seen by some well-off people at an auction would be less than the advantage of being in a prestigious museum collection.

BPJ, you're right, and it's not even close. Being in a museum collection is a great benefit to the artist. With the auction you're supporting a hopefully good cause, but it would be a mistake to expect any career benefit from it.

7/31/2006 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I always thought the why behind this tax code was a function of how art becomes valuable.

Just because I say my painting is worth one million dollars, that doesn't make it so. People have to come along and take me up on the offer--they set the value more than I do.

Not condoning the law--any artist with a sales record should be able to point to that record and make assesments of value on their own work.

8/01/2006 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Charles Hankin said...

The law as proposed would require that an appraisal be done. Most Museums have review committees that choose what to accept. The main discussion is about donating to benefit auctions and if it is good for the artist. It would help if the artists were the recipients of the charity rather than the tool of the fundraisers. Most charities work with paid and volunteer staff to fulfill their programs. The difference with asking artists to give their art is that artists seldom are supported for their work. Where were the charities voices when the NEA was cut by congress and individual grants to artists were stopped? Do they all think artists are "well off"?

8/01/2006 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

The best benefits are auctions since the idea is to get the most money possible.

I wouldn't be against artists being allowed a 20 per cent since
they don't have to donate all.

50 per cent is a bit like not donating since galleries already give you from 50 to 60 per cent in sales. I mean...Do an efffort.

If you are established and well doing it's more easy to totally give your art. I know many artists are starving, they shouldn't have to give all. It always also depends on the cause: cancer research benefits should deserve special attention.


Cedric Caspesyan

8/01/2006 10:31:00 PM  

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