“Your cause is worthy and I believe in it.” This is how San Antonio artists feel when asked to donate their artwork to a fundraising event. But the artists are often not treated with the same respect by those who seek their contributions.
It might take an artist a couple of months or perhaps a couple of days to create an artwork requested for a donation. In the business world, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEOs are never asked to give this much. Sometimes, the solicitors don’t even know anything about the artist or their art. In addition, they establish conditions such as a specific size or content and also expect the artists to deliver and pick up their artwork. Meanwhile, the fundraising organizers act as if they were doing the artist a favor!
Adding insult to injury, some fundraisers accept only a 100-percent donation. To make things worse, many fundraisers sell the art at a reduced price that undermines the market value that the artist has established through hard work and discipline. Art students and people who are just embarking on their careers might benefit from this type of exposure; mature artists do not. On the contrary, if the work sells for less than its value, its market price is diminished.
Some collectors exclusively buy from events like these, and ironically, the sponsor is more grateful to the savvy collector writing the check than to the generous artist. This is why we don’t have an art market, and why there are so few serious commercial galleries in San Antonio. It is very hard for an artist to make a living in this city since most people think that art is cheap or free! The prevailing attitude is: “That’s nice, give it to me; you can always make another one.” Artists are hard-working professionals and should not be taken for granted. Regrettably, San Antonio has an astounding creative community of artists that is supported solely by grass-roots efforts and lacks the backing of an art market.
For the most part, the nature of the art business and artist representation is misunderstood in our city. In the commerce of art, the art dealer aggressively seeks prospective buyers for the artwork he or she represents. When an art dealer has a client but no gallery, s/he can charge the artist up to 30 percent on the sale. Commercial galleries take 40 to 50 percent because they need to cover overhead expenses such as: rent, electricity, printing and mailing invitations, staff salaries, an opening reception, and sometimes a closing reception. Fundraisers held by non-art-related institutions (and even nonprofit art institutions) that do not engage in this kind of promotional work should not get 50 percent — or more — of the value of an artwork. This is a call to action for artists: Stop donating to fundraisers that undermine the value of your artwork.
On May 28, 2006, The New York Times published a lengthy article on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section titled “It’s Time For Artists to Give Till It Hurts.” So San Antonio artists are not alone in this calamity. The Times story reported a brilliant turn of the tables: “Collectors rather than artists will be asked to provide the artworks. (If a work is donated to an arts organization to be sold, collectors can take a tax deduction equal to the price they paid for it.)” This is just one example of how fundraiser organizers can become more creative in securing resources to support their particular nonprofit organizations without placing the economic burden on the artists.
Artists are not uncaring or un-civic; they just deserve to make a good living from their talent and hard work. Although artists’ labors enhance the quality of life for everyone, still they are some of the poorest people living in our community. We are campaigning to make San Antonio a truly great city by recognizing the contributions that the individual artist makes to its culture and economy.
This article is the second in a discussion of local economic issues that affect artists living and working in San Antonio. Read Nate Cassie’s contribution, “The sobering economics of art,” in our November 8-14 issue, online at Sacurrent.com.
Rolando Briseño and Angel Rodriguez-Diaz are San Antonio-based artists. Their work can be found online at Rolandobriseno.com, and at Rudolphprojects.com/artists.html.