Sunday, 13 March 2016

Silent Auctions to Become More Ethical

One Saturday,  I was at the home of Gary Kachanoski (President of MUN) and his partner Teresa (chair of Visual Arts NL).  The occasion was a fundraising silent auction to benefit the Excellence in Visual Arts Awards.  Silent auctions are the mainstay in fundraising whether the cause be ecological (Ducks Unlimited), social justice (like the many around the refugee families), or artistic –like Teresa Kachanoski's.  Generally, collectors come out to enjoy the party atmosphere, a little friendly competitive bidding and hopefully, to snag a bargain.  Unfortunately, there are often two losers in this game: the commercial art galleries and those at the very bottom of the food chain, the artist.  

The first effort to address this situation has been the "minimum bid".  Basically, an artwork is NOT allowed to go for less than the stated price–but that still left the commercial art galleries out.  That Saturday, was the first time I heard the announcement, "if you were not able to get the piece you wanted.  We hope you will go to the gallery that represents that artist for another piece."  VANL is trying to create a win-win-win protocol with a percentage going to the gallery as well.  This is part of a national trend but one I think is crucial in smaller cities like St. John's where there are fewer players in the game.

Here is Teresa's piece for the Broadside, VANL's online publication, on the topic:

“There is more to representing art than selling art. The life of the gallery is dependent on the renewal and refreshment of its artists and dealers. When that stops happening, it’s the end.” - Arne Glimcher

In Newfoundland and Labrador, You Can Die of Exposure

by Teresa Kachanoski, Chair of the Board
Everyone loves getting a good deal at an art auction, especially if the proceeds go to help a beloved charity. You go home with a lovely piece of artwork and you feel good about being generous.
There is another side to this story that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Artists and art dealers are too frequently asked to donate work to charity auctions and the practice has become detrimental to local galleries and to the visual arts sector in general. The justification of “getting exposure” by donating work has been found untrue. Gallery owners see a dramatic drop in sales during months when art auctions abound, while artists are not getting paid for their work. As art auctions are equally popular and problematic, we are currently in the process of developing a series of recommendations and guidelines to make charities aware of the issues.

VANL-CARFAC is also in a situation where it needs to raise funds. For the past 11 years we have put on the Excellence in Arts (EVA) awards, with proceeds entirely generated by private sponsors and through fundraising efforts. This year we will indeed be having a fundraising event that will feature an art auction, but our auction will be different and we will make sure our guests are aware of the issues.

The artwork we will auction has been provided by local galleries, but we will set the minimum bid at the gallery price. The galleries will receive their commission, the artists will receive their share, and VANL will get the surplus amount above the minimum. While we will not receive a large return on each piece, we do feel that it’s a win-win-win situation that will help open a dialogue about best practices in these situations.

Galleries are an essential part of the art-making world. They provide artists with marketing, promotion, advice, expertise, support and feedback. The work they do by educating and alerting the public to trends, establishing fair prices, and providing a context in which artists can sell their work even benefits those artists who are not represented by galleries . By supporting these integral parts of the visual arts community, we are ensuring both the galleries, and the visual arts as a whole, remain able to fulfill their role in maintaining the vibrant culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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