Paying For It

The holidays are safely past us my friends, and we can expect a diminution of requests that we “give” to this or that charitable organization. Unless, that is, you are an artist, and then the demands upon your treasure will continue all year long.

“Donate your work to help my school.”

“Give our group a painting and the money will support our giving to the arts.”

“The museum doesn’t have enough capital to do any exhibitions next year, won’t you please give?”

Good deeds are by definition good, and nobody wants anyone to stop helping as they are able. If this means raising funds, and it almost always does, then we need to craft a different model. Or several models, probably many.

One way of working that I admire and have only recently become aware of is represented by Artist Bailout, a self organizing group who invite artists to propose modest projects that need funding and then hold an event, often a ticketed dinner, to raise the money. Each ticket becomes a donation, and each ticket holder has one vote. One or more projects go away funded. Everyone involved becomes, at least for the evening, a member of a disparate community who each and as a group feel pretty great about life.

Artist Bailout calls itself a micro funder, but perhaps there is something here that larger institutions can learn?

Another organization with another model which I post about each year has been the California Community Foundation, who raise money in that increasingly weird way that is called philanthropy. “Yes Virginia, people do just give money away.” It can happen. Here is a thought, you foundations with the large budgets to fund: Appeal to your community’s better side: ask for money and offer nothing in return but a good conscience and the knowledge that an entire community benefits. Maybe if you get your constituent donors involved in the process… Try it.

A group that that I have been involved with in the past, FOCA, raises the funds they grant to artists and exhibitions mostly through membership dues. Again, this is a modest proposal, but it has been successful since 1975.

The most common way for an arts organization to raise money seems to be the benefit auction. I have been involved in a few over the years – and some of these auctions have given some of the funds raised back to the donating artists, as much as 20% to 50%, depending on the circumstances.

But whatever the amount that goes back to artists, I do think we need to talk about this idea of artists giving work to an institution which will then support artists. I have bought work at many benefit auctions – because I wish to support a space, because I want to see an exhibition or grant happen, and honestly – because I like art. I like to bring it home. To quote a friend, with some discomfort but with honesty,”I buy it cheap at a charity event so I don’t have to pay the full price.” Put so baldly, I feel queasy with myself. I admire the projects that ultimately are funded, and I know them to be valuable to the community and to the ongoing creation of art history, but…

Given that the economy has changed, and seemingly is not going to change back, something has to give. It can’t always be artists.

Over the years I have devoted much of the space of Notes on Looking to bring your attention to efforts I find that need support. I detailed a few above. It is my belief that one function of Notes on Looking is to serve as a clearinghouse – for attention as well as, I am hopeful, for money. Every time I write about an artist, or a gallery, a non-profit, a writer or publication, an alternative space or a project I keep my fingers crossed that someone out there will throw money at it or her or him. “Buy things!'” is my motto, or one of them.

“Attention is great, it keeps the conversation going,” I tell myself. “aaah, but dollars, euros and pesos pay the bills, so that the makers can keep making and the sellers can sell and curators will have spaces to organize.”

I bring you a conundrum and I ask for your comments.

Thanks, as always.


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