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The revolution will not be televised Part Two- Fair Trades Means Fair Trade.

There has been an explosion of art auctions to raise moneys for non-profit organizations. These organizations repeatedly ask artists to donate their art and/or their time to them for free. Many of these organizations do not support or work directly with artists. Nor do many of them work on issues that directly impact the artist community. As mentioned in The revolution will not be televised Part One- Artists are the working poor of the art world and do not get paid adequately or at all for their time or work. So why are these so-called organizations who work with underserved communities and/or so called important causes feel entitled to ask artists to donate their talents for free? A partial answer is because as artists we let them. If we did not donate our work they would have to come up with a different way to raise moneys other than art auctions (On a personal note, I am very particular in regard to what organizations I donate my work and time to. I only donate to organizations that I have a real and direct connection with and I do turn down requests often.). Two others reasons: people don’t know how our industry/market is structured and/or they just do not value art or artists. The fact the NEA stopped awarding fellowships to artists is one of the many examples of this.

The Artists Foundation/Creative Alliance [1] has drafted base line fair trade means fair trade standards. Our goal is that artists will use this guidelines to engage the organizations that ask them donate to adopt these standard- We hope that artist will demand that those organizations asking for art adopt our standards. These standards are a baseline to start from and are listed at the end of this column. Those who attend these auctions also have a moral responsibility to make sure those organization sponsoring the auction at least follow the AF’s guidelines.

As the Executive Director of the Artists Foundation, I often have conversations with organizations that want us to send out their calls for donations for art auctions to our free list serve. The AF declines to send the call out if it doesn’t meet our Fair trade means Fair trade standards. I clearly remember one head of an organization couldn’t understand why they didn’t get a response from a call they sent out to artists (we did not send it out to our list). My conversation with such organizations usually starts like this: Did you know that artists can not deduct the fair market value of the work they donate - They can only the materials cost to make the work (Note to readers: The proposed national legislation for artists to be able to deduct the fair market value of art they donate to collecting institutions will not cover donations to art auctions)? Does your organization do anything directly for artists? Are their any artists involved with your organization in a leadership role? Has your organization been visible supporters of issues and legislation that directly impacts artists for the better? Does your organization buy art from living artists? Do you understand that artists are the working poor of the art world and that you are essentially trying to exploit that population for your organization’s own gain?

I must also speak to folks who go to auctions in order to avoid paying the actual retail price of artwork- what I would call your bargain basement mentality. This practice is unacceptable and it must be stopped. This practice hurts living artists and those who work hard to present and sell artists’ work (commercial, non profit spaces, alternative spaces, etc.). Fair trade and fair labor practices are needed in the art world as much as they are needed in the coffee trade industry and beyond.

Fair trade means fair trade AF Guidelines:

Background: Artists are always asked to donate work to various causes and institutions. Yet they can not deduct the fair market value of the work on their taxes. Artists can only deduct the materials costs of producing the work. Of course if an artist doesn’t earn enough in annual income a tax deduction may not be helpful. We are offering some standards for auctions and donations of artwork from artists.

1) Any organization that sponsors charity auctions or solicits donations of art from artists will endorse and help to pass legislation that will change the state and federal laws to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of the artwork they donate. They will also become more engaged with supporting artists and the issues that impact them.

2) If the art work is to be auctioned, that the artist can set the lowest bid allowed on their work at the auction.

3) That the artist is offered a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of their art work -no less than 25%-with the option that the artist can donate their work/proceeds outright to auction/institution. If the work is being made specifically for the event (ie artists are invited to all make chairs, plates) then there needs to be a standard minimum bid set before the event.

4) If the auction/event is a fund raiser also via ticket sales, that the artists are allowed to attend the event free of charge or at a greatly reduced price (1/3 of the ticket price or more).

5) Artists are given the contact information of the person(s) who purchased their art work at the auction/event.


[1] - The Creative Alliance, founded by the Artists Foundation, is an on line project that is non partisan and is dedicated to empowering artists to become part of the public policy dialogue on issues that directly impact their livelihoods. The Creative Alliance (CA) also works to educate policy makers and advocacy groups on the unique needs of the artist community. The Creative Alliance does not endorse political candidates for office or political parties. By joining the Artists Foundation list serve you will be alerted to legislation, initiatives, policy models, and other organizations that are relevant to and are impacting working artists in Massachusetts and beyond. To join the AF list serve click here.

Artists Foundation

All images are courtesy of the artist and insert venue name.

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