Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Don't shoot the philanthropists!

Shayli Vere forwarded a comment to me (you’ll find it in the “comments” for my post “Free Art” from a few days ago) that is a message from Carl Phylis to Marty Murphy of Saltdance Productions. Carl is clearly angry, and I understand where he’s coming from.

This model we’ve come to adopt of artists donating their art to raise funds for other things, receiving little in return (if anything at all) has got to be rethought, revised, remodeled, revisited. BUT, and yes, this is a shouted "but", we have to remember that we (artists) have been just as complicit in the model and those on the other side. I know I’ve donated pieces, and I’ll bet you have too. And when you did, if you’re like me, you probable muttered something like “Well, it’s for a good cause… I’m happy to support it.” all the while, you were probably thinking something like “Maybe it’ll get my name out there/drum up some interest in my work/lead to a sale…” and maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. Point is, you/we/I participated in the scheme. Now, you/we/I are rethinking the scheme.

Rethinking the arrangement is abundantly possible, and, given the philanthropic nature of most, if not all, of the fundraising types, it’s a conversation I’m sure they’re willing to engage in. I’ll bet we could come to a general understanding, and, as I write this, I’ll just bet that if we arranged a formal meeting between level headed members of the arts community and equally level headed members of the fundraising community, we could hammer out some commonly accepted principles. Most of the fundraisers probably are unaware of the low average incomes of Island artists and have never intended to worsen the situation. What would be the point of that?

What I’d suggest we need to do is work with, not yell at, the fundraising community. We’ll find some who are happy to agree and implement changes right away. Those people will find they have easy and pleasant access to the arts community and the artwork they seek. Those who don’t will not have the same access and will soon realize the benefits of working together.

What we absolutely cannot, as a community, afford to do is alienate this group of people who have excellent pull and contacts in the public sphere, good if not excellent access to the decision makers in their local and provincial political spheres, and remarkable support from their communities.

How much better would it be to CONVERT (and yes that’s a shouted "convert") them to supporters and advocates for the arts, to have them understand the plight of artists, and to promote the fact that the art being sold/auctioned/raffled is being done so in partnership with the artist who made it who will be donating part of the sale proceeds to the cause in question through the organization holding the event.

If we’re angry, then let’s express that in ways that don’t widen the already wide chasm between our understanding and the fundraising community. Let’s extend a hand or two, invite them into the conversation, and make some friends. We can mutually benefit from working this out.

Summer is a busy time for everyone and for me, it’s my time to take some vacation and then catch up on work. So, I’ll propose that this September, once the kids are back in school and things have started to settle down, the I/the Council, will host a discussion on this topic. I’ll send out a date and time once we have a space booked. This will be an initial discussion to sort out and appropriate model that we can then try, first, to get the arts community to endorse, then, second, get the fundraising community to adopt.

Are you with me?


Shayli Vere said...

I couldn't agree more Darrin.
Count me in.

Shayli Vere said...

posting this for Nigel Roe

Well it's funny how this conversation comes around every few years, then disappears for a time and resurfaces again when some or one artist gets sufficiently pissed off at it all again and starts the rant again. Yes you are right about all your points and Suzanne and Darrin are as well. The fact of the matter is, as long as there are those that will continue to give it away we will never resolve this. There are still lots of artists here on PEI who regularly give work away for donations to causes and responding to requests. These artists can obviously afford to do it, frankly I cannot. Last year alone I was asked for the equivalent of 10K worth of work to be donated and not a cent back to us as arts. Yes, there are certain causes that we all feel strongly about and do donate artwork too, but it's these benefits/events fronted by successful and wealthy individuals to create a fun event with some perks that causes the problems.
All artwork that is donated should be funneled through a not for profit/charitable organization like the Council of the Arts that can then issue at the least a tax receipt to the artists. A minimum bid should be set and work not sold unless it reaches this. This is the bare minimum as a standard. CARFAC has tried to develop standards for this and the various provincial affiliates do have documents and standards for their areas. This is always a point of discussion at meetings. The Arts Council meeting in September should provide a forum for this discussion. Visual artists are certainly the most often asked for this but others are as well. Circulate this if you want to. Nice to see you at the opening.

Nigel Roe