Friday, April 23, 2010

The Artist Art Auction Fundraiser Catch 22

This has been brewing in my cranium for a few years so it's had time to settle, collect, and perhaps ferment. Art benefit fundraisers often ask artists themselves to donate their work for the purpose of auctioning off the work to patrons. Sounds great but the issue most overlooked is why are artists the ones asked to donate their work, especially in Pittsburgh where it's known that few artists make a living based on their "non-commercial" art? I've spoken with gallery owners and artists over the past year on this subject and there exists a lot of questions.

Why is the artist leaned on to donate their work free of charge? Sure a lot of artists donate without looking critically at the larger picture due to their good natures and possibly think it's good exposure down the line. My biggest issue is why lean on artists given the inherent financial disadvantage most Pittsburgh artists experience. One prominent gallery owner I spoke with simply suggested the organizations should stick to events like private dinners and events which do not require artists to donate their work for auctions. There are a finite amount of art purchases in the region and the reality is that the significant art auction fundraisers take away from purchases which benefit the artists financially. The one exception I've noticed was Fe Gallery which had an option for the artist to retain a percentage. It gives the artist the option to choose. One could argue they have the option of just not participating at all but i think that to be an overly simplistic argument given the factors.

Then there is the exposure factor, meaning artists may not receive money but the exposure they receive helps them down the line. Tough to argue given the sheer amount of art at these auctions and the lack of probability further contact will be made.

Artists are generically known for giving more than they can necessarily "afford". Perhaps it's time to think why they are so often leaned upon? I think most will agree artists do a tremendous amount for their communities in their personal and job related activities. Do they really have to give their art away too?

Something to think about...

Another issue I'd like to blog about down the road is the degree to which businesses and other entities hit up artists to display their work for free based on consignment (if they actually sell). This is a practice artists themselves need to resist contributing to given the reality of the art world.

Rick Byerly

If you're looking for more info on Pittsburgh artists and how to support them check here.



The Pittsburgh Art Blog

pittsburgh galleries is reborn anew as The Pittsburgh Art Blog. the blog features selected pittsburgh artists and upcoming exhibits with photos from the artists and galleries. since the major press outlets do not go beyond a directory listing of exhibits, blogs are needed to promote pittsburgh artists and their work. the blog also calls attention to the inferiority complex of pittsburgh art and how it's perpetuated by the major players in town. Started on August 20, 2007.pittsburgh area galleries and art venues are listed at the sister site blog and website are volunteer projects from fine art photographer and pittsburgh art advocate rick byerly,


  1. I've donated several pieces to help with a lot of people's medical expenses this year. I just feel so bad. But I wonder if I got sick, would I be able to sell my art to fund my own medical expenses. Can I have a fundraiser for myself? Will I have to dish up some spaghetti dinners, too?

  2. that sounds like a great direct way to help individual people in need- i purchased a painting from an artist who was in the hospital at the time.

  3. I love it when they ask you for a donation of artwork...and don't even give you a ticket to the event-these events can be $100+ per ticket. Can't afford that!

  4. yeah that bites- the only one i know of that does well by artists in that regard is the persad benefit auction and vip party- the problem with that one is how many artists were asked in 2009 and the # of well known artists whose work went for very little- a case of saturation in my opinion.