Couple Seated, 2008 by Karen Azarnia

Everyone has to live somewhere, right? That includes famous people, artists in particular. Wherever these folks live there are organizations in their towns having fundraisers and they are calling upon them to donate their work. Until the Internet age, a person in Connecticut would have no way of buying the donated art from a fundraiser in Illinois. But now, many of these organizations put their auctions online. If you know about the auction, you can click on a link and bid or buy. While I could not find a clearinghouse that lists all of the art auctions for non profits at any given time, I’m sure there probably is one or will be one soon.

The Riverside Arts Center is having an online auction as part of their yearly fundraiser. Their Disco Inferno gala is this weekend and they are hoping to raise $10,000 from the auction alone. There are a lot of artists in the Riverside area and they have been generous enought to donate their work. There is some very collectible art available right now. You can bid on it online or at the event. There is a Buy It Now button if you don’t want to take the chance of losing the piece and you will still get the art for well under its stated value.

My interest in buying art for a steal was peaked when I lived in Mendham, NJ. The Mendham Borough Library was having a book and art sale one year and I was intrigued. My two favorite things, books and art, for sale in the same place! There were quite a few artists that were affiliated with the library and I’m sure were happy to support the cause by donating paintings. As I recall, I put some bids on the silent auction sheets. I was the only bidder on one of them and got the piece for a song. Most of the people were going there to buy books, not art, I figured.

While I did feel fortunate to pick up this piece, I was concerned that it was basically given away, which served neither the artist nor the library, just me. I was fairly young and the bidding sheets didn’t lend themselves to overbidding and I didn’t think to bid a fair price for the art. I was excited to get the lowest price. I now realize that had I paid a fair price, both the library and the artist would have benefited and I wouldn’t feel bad every time I look at the painting.

There have been many articles written on this topic. Some artists have given away, in one year, more art than they sell. Some unscrupulous buyers turn around and sell them on the open market for a profit. I realized that the people in charge of gathering items for fundraisers are not always thinking about the artist, they are more focused on getting as many goods as possible for their event. While artists have been very kind in giving their work away, it would be great if collectors realized this and bidded accordingly.

I have donated items over the years to various organizations. In one situation, I donated a piece to the Mendham Junior Women’s Club biennial fundraiser, an event that I was also attending. It caused me great stress wondering if the item would sell. I began to wonder what they would do with the piece if it didn’t sell. Do they throw it away? Do they give it back to the artist? Thankfully, it did sell but I get anxiety everytime I am asked to donate a piece.

Another time, I donated a piece that was fairly valuable and found that the auction organizers had put it in a “gift basket” with a bunch of other items. I don’t even know if the person who got it saw the beautiful art work in there with the bottles of wine. While I was happy to support the organization, I was bummed that my piece was not offered on its own.

Right now, because the Artist-Museum Partnership Act never passed in congress, an artist who donates his or her work can only deduct the cost of the materials, not the time to make the work or most importantly, the market value. If the artist regularly sells work for $2000, this amount cannot be deducted. This makes it very unattractive for any artist to donate artwork to a museum or charity. But they still do it because they are generous, kind people.

The Riverside Arts Center does a nice job of taking care of its donating artists. The RAC showcases each donated art piece online and in a catalog. They give each artist a free ticket to the gala (a $75 value). This gesture gives collectors an opportunity to chat with the artist whose work they are buying. The RAC also lets each artist know who bought their piece and for how much. If everyone realized that while it’s really cool to get a great bargain on good art, it’s more important to give as much as you can to the charity throwing the fundraiser.

So Come to Disco Inferno on Saturday night, enjoy the food and decorations, costumes and drinks. Bid on some good art. You just might come home with a bargain and help a good cause.

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and teacher with Doodle Art & Design. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...