Friday, June 13, 2008

Free art (well... from the artist) and Co-ops

A day or two ago, I received a very interesting email message from Island Artist and Entrepreneur Shayli Vere. Here it is, included with her permission:

I have been asked many times to donate art to local charity/nonprofit fund raisers.
I've just got to pass on to you my concerns about this practice. We are asking OUR POOREST people on the Island to give and support all the charities on the Island. Many artists work sell for hundreds more than they would ever get themselves. In such a small population, we have only so many sales of art all year. IF our paintings are being sold to our 'elite' in charity auctions, I doubt they would buy another painting all year! and our artist have no sales and are just continually asked to work for nothing and give all the artwork away.

Please. We need to be heard!!

What about a yearly 'Support Local Arts and (maybe Prince County Hospital) auction where a percentage/predetermined amount goes to the artists and all monies over this amount goes to the charity?
Artists are givers, and want to support their community but we need to also be supported.

What about creating a job here where the arts administrator's job is to help artists market and sell their work???

As for the first point – I couldn’t agree more. While it seems nigh on impossible to garner proper support for the arts (a plug for more arts council funding), artists seem to be the first people that communities turn to when help is need. Someone has an illness, let’s have a fundraiser – who will play the fiddle? Some building needs renos – let’s have a fundraiser – who’s art will we expect to get for free and sell for money? I’ve not often seen a free roofing job up for auction. And when was the last time you saw a free root canal and crown on the auction block?

Exactly how do we shift perceptions and engage the “requestors” in our overall advocacy? How do we ensure artists work is valued by those who make these requests and how do we ensure that artists see SOMETHING in return? I don’t rightly know – but I’m so glad that some has started the discussion.

This just in (and right off the top of my head), Island artists could donate works for charity, when requested, through a central body (like the Council) who, in turn, makes the arrangement for, upon sale, X% to come back to the artists and Y% to the charitable event? …? I like the idea BUT would anyone go for it…. Essentially a way for artists to take one step back from the process and donate (for example) 70% of the value of their work to the charitable cause, instead of 100%.

Moving on to the idea of someone to market work for Island artists…

I think what you’ve proposed is a great idea and matches well with some other conversations I’ve been having recently with other organizations and partners. It’s certainly something to pursue over this next year, and I look forward to some support from the arts community for this measure.

There are a few different ways to implement this type of idea regionally, nationally, and worldwide. The model that seems to work best is that of a cooperative (and there are positively brilliant examples out there – I was blown away by a UK cooperative for music that was the subject of a paper last year). The reason I like the cooperative model is that it firmly rests the control in the hands of the users, not Government directors, or non-profit execs (like me). At the same time, it doesn’t preclude support from the agencies, and doesn’t preclude the hiring of someone reasonable expert in the area. Europe is already well down this path, and let’s not forget the Canadian Francophone experience. Of course, the biggest reason to use a coop model is that it can be as exclusive or inclusive as the coop participants desire – something very difficult to do if you are a Government employee, or an non-profit exec (like me). Don’t like someone’s work? Don’t include them. Love someone’s work? Invite them it. The power of the cooperative model.

If anyone is interested, there is a coop model working now in Fredericton (based around a gallery) with a paid staff to market and promote. I’d be quite happy to look at a road trip and take a few people up for a discussion.

What think you all?



Shayli Vere said...

Thank you so much for your input!
Co-op IDEA
I agree that it is so important that we keep the control of the artist career in our own hands. I have been asked by local business people to develop areas for them for art sales, the plan always seems to be on the backs of the artists, an unappealing bland idea too! I keep coming back to building something for the artists, to support the growth of our culture, a co- op. I think we have to keep the control in the artists hands, but it has to be a business with the right people to handle marketing of what we create. I have watched what the artists did in so many communities in BC. Look at Salt Spring Island, it wasn't worth much until the artists moved in and took over, creating a world destination of art and culture, with a private airport!
If we, the artists, are strong our culture will be strong and so the economy will be strong. Look at one artist did for this Island, Lucy Maud. She's only one. If we can change many of our Island 'habits' like the way we turn to the artists for all free contributions, we may have a chance. One thing I'd like to change is that all the doctors and lawyers etc PAY for the art in their offices, just like they had to pay for their chairs.
I would also love to see Island Artists shown and marketed off Island.Boston Darrin? Strength in numbers. Lets start showing collectively, and I also agree with you Darrin, that the council can help us with projects like this, and like the idea of the Council helping with the art donation process.
Lets keep talking and get things changed!
Shayli Vere

Shayli Vere said...

I am posting these comments for
artist Suzanne O'Callaghan
Dear Shayli..... good morning and you're welcome; thank YOU! Re am I interested ~ my heart but not my head so much ~ my concern would be that, firstly, all charities would then think we would all donate to everything and I don't think that artists actually do any favours to anyone by giving to them all (or even the majority) because it devalues the artist's work in the marketplace ~ i.e. someone bought a large work by an important (Island) woman artist last year and then approached me trying to sell it to someone else for what she discovered the artist's work sells for and/or wondering if she could get a tax receipt for the 'real' value of it based on what she had seen the work for in a gallery space. After I told her what I thought of this and her, she retreated to her home in Brighton and hasn't spoken to me since. My neighbour recently told me she had bought one of Karl's (MacKeeman) oils for only $40 ~ one that would be in a gallery for around $800. If she or others are telling people things like this ~ and I do think this sort of chatter is common ~ the so-called bargain they got on artist's work and, worse, like the woman I mentioned trying to resell them for more or get tax receipts for more etc ~ then the idea of donating art is ridiculous, to me. The fair market value of our work has to be protected, somehow, and reserve bids don't always do that either. Last year, the Organic Harvest meal and art auction was also not so good - there was a reserve set on the works but most didn't sell because people would not start bidding at the reserve and then re the ones that did sell for the reserve at the last minute, the artists didn't all get their 50 per cent of the reserve bid in a timely fashion (ie I had to chase organizers for my cheque), which was generally half the value of the work - meaning the artists got only 25 per cent of the value of the pieces anyway. Then, the meal, held at the Culinary Institute, was oversold to rich people and so many of the artists, who were supposed to get a free meal for their generosity, didn't get fed/seated/were turned away (Karl and I and my son were turned away, for example - even after I did the publicity ~ for free!~ etc on top of everything else). Regarding the Friends of the Confed Mayflower event: that project is one I have enormous misgivings about. The Confed Art Gallery does not support provincial artists on the whole, its mandate is national, and I don't feel the Confed should be asking Island artists to give their work to benefit what some artists call "the fortress of culture"/their fundraisers, ESPECIALLY if the artist is not in the permanent collection/meaning the Confed hasn't bought at least one of the artist's pieces. The ONLY positive experience I have had on PE relative to donating work is Hospice and, in the early 90's, the Women's Network. Hilda and I talked of this last June and the entire 'donating' art thing is, at best, tricky and, as I have said, has real dangers most of all relative to devaluing the fair market value of artwork and, as well, copyright infringements ~ something that brings the importance of Island artists joing CARFAC forward, as an aside. It is almost impossible to make people understand that they are not buying one piece, they are buying the lifetime of learning that rolled into that one piece, and in the meantime ~ I can only speak for myself and those close to me ~ most of us are starving to death. Giving my work to charities so that rich people can buy them for a song is really, really distasteful to me and if, like Karl's, a piece of mine with a fmv of hundreds or even thousands of dollars were to go for only $40 at a charity event, I think I would rather just write the charity a cheque for $40 ~ that is before throwing myself into the Hillsborough River.
Hope something of this is helpful....
Thanks again...

Shayli Vere said...

I am posting this for artist Carl Phillis. He has asked me to post his reply for being asked for donations for Saltance Productions.

Dear Ms. Hoople
Please pass this message on to Martie Murphy...
For a while I did not know what the fund raiser was all about . Now I have knowledge of "Saltance Productions", I am having second thoughts about participating .....If you think that by following the ways of Niccolo Machiavelli{1469-1527}you are going to place all your names along side such great arts philanthropies as Lorenzo to Cosimo Medici{Florence 1395-1574} or the Americans William Randolph Hearst, Solomon.R.Guggenheim, John.D.Rockefeller, and in Canada Signe McMicheal{group of seven gallery},Braufman family, and Lord Beaverbrook ,you will not for these people are true patrons of the arts and supported the artists around them... They do not use the arts as a way to generate income or as tax write offs........ To me this fundraiser is just a way of taking work off the hard working Artists and selling it for next to nothing to the wealthy of P.E.I. who's yearly earnings are 10 to 1000 times more than the "Artist' who put all their effort into production of the art piece.......From what I read about "Saltance Productions" has enough
backing from the wealthy and grants without picking on the financially strapped Artist........
All "Saltance Productions " wants is Free Art without even asking the Artists to the party for none of us struggling Artists can afford the $200.00 price tag to hang out with a bunch of wealthy snob's.....
May be you'd do a fund raiser where Brad Richard's dances Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" I'd happily pay a week's wages all $250.00 worth.......
Sorry to disappoint you Martie but this Fund raiser does not save lives

Yours Sincerely
Carl Phillis {The Peoples

Darrin White said...

Regarding Carl's comment, please see my post "Don't shoot the philanthropist!" Readers should note that Carl's opinions are not necessarily shared by all.

My Green House in Ridgetown said...

Boy oh Boy, I am really late in responding to this, but I concur. Artists have to stop devaluing their own work by supporting these events for the rich. I have done it myself - to my regret. I laboured over one particular piece for months. It went at auction for over $5000 and I got a charitable donation receipt. Artists are always at the mercy of the rich or subject to the control of the "curators". They demand artistic excellence, but what exactly is that?!! What it is - is someone else's impression of your work. If they don't happen to like it - then it lacks artistic excellence. Every community event features visual artists - who don't get paid to be there. The musicians get paid, the street performers get paid - but the artists are supposed to be "thrilled" to have the "opportunity" to sell their work. Even exhibits at galleries provide nothing, other than exposure, for the artists that participate. Next piece I do - even if it is in a gallery - will have my "artists begging bowl" alongside. We need a coalition of artists that doesn't include the usual gatekeepers. If they don't offer some financial recompense, we shouldn't be participating in their events. Never underprice your work - just so it sells. Never give your work away for free. When was the last time a dentist was asked to "drill for charity"!!