Give it to me, baby… for free!

Rye’s Painters on Location is a well-run art fundraiser, one which I’m honored to participate in.
Recently, Tim Kreider wrote a screedin the New York Times about a problem every artist experiences: the endless requests for donations of work to non-profits.
Having a bit of the Blue-Haired Church Lady in my makeup, I’m pretty free and easy about this, even though I know that paintings often sell at fundraising auctions for a fraction of their value. The ones where they ask for a painting are, frankly, the easiest—I just pick something from my inventory, send it, and forget about it. The ones where I’m asked to do something are a bit harder, since time is always in short supply. At one point last summer I was juggling three such requests. It was, frankly, a bit much, especially as I looked around a crowded banquet hall and realized the caterer, the band, and the staff were all being paid, while I was doing my thing for free.
Marilyn Fairman, Brad Marshall, and yours truly painting at Rye’s Painters on Location.
These events are often pitched to artists as “career-enhancing” but in truth they are usually the exact opposite. Our work sells for a fraction of what it commands in the private market, depressing our overall sales record. Often, it’s the wrong audience anyway. I’ve seen PGA tickets go for several times their value while paintings languish at their opening bid. That’s really no surprise when the crowd at the event is a golf-watching rather than an art-buying one.
Another well-organized fundraising event: Camden Plein Air.
Despite this, there are in fact some excellent fundraising art sales out there. These treat artists like professionals and pay them a legitimate price for their work. Rye’s Painters on Location and Camden Plein Air are two such events. (It should come as no surprise that both are organized by arts professionals.)
Ask yourself:
  • Does it raise money for something I really care about? I forgive a lot when the cause is near and dear to my heart. Likewise, I bend rules like crazy for my friends;
  • Is it an art-specific auction? You can’t expect a general auction to bring out many art-lovers, so paintings never sell well at these events;
  • Are they giving a percentage of the proceeds back to the artist? It costs money to participate. If the staffer organizing the event is being paid, you should be paid too;
  • Is it juried? You want your work showcased with other work that is as good as or better than yours.

And remember: you, the artist, cannot deduct the fair-market value of that painting you donated. (I’m not an accountant; I just speak from the bitter experience of an IRS audit.)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!
Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.