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There's Got to Be a Better Way (or 10)... To Raise Money with Art

By Katie Wilde

In a recent conversation, one of our members was describing the experience of "donor fatigue" a phenomenon that can occur when artists are repeatedly asked to donate to art auctions.

Artists are some of the most socially conscious and generous people in our community. They are also some of the lowest income earners, by a wide margin. This artist told me she could no longer afford to continue giving her professional work away for free, but had had recent success switching to a 50/50 split. She told me if somebody asks her to just donate, it has to be a "no". If they're willing to do a 50/50, it moves to the top of her priority list. She’s not the only one talking about this.

Clearly, it's time to rethink how we as artists, arts organizations, and non-arts charities approach arts-based fundraisers, so that they can develop into something that is more sustainable for fundraisers and fair to artists.

On December 3, 2014, CARFAC, the national arts advocacy organization, hosted a Charitable Fundraiser Panel discussion on the subject, which was held at CUBE Gallery in Ottawa. I highly recommend reading the full transcript. Led by passionate, intelligent, and level-headed arts professionals, it's a fascinating and important read. Please take a moment to read it or download the pdf to look at later. CARFAC is developing a set of overarching best practices for charitable fundraisers taking donations of art, which will be published and easily accessible for reference online. In the meantime, we've borrowed from their panel transcript to compile a summary of the issue, including ten strategies for improvement.

Artists earn an average yearly wage of $22,700. For visual artists, this number drops to $13,976. Compare this to the average of $36,300 for all Canadian workers. This is a significant gap, and puts artists at or below the low income point depending on their field. "In any other context, repeated donation requests from individuals identified in this position would be unconscionable and outrageous," said one of the panelists, professional artist Barbara Gamble. She goes on to say, however, that she continues to support charities, private and public galleries and artist run centres, but sets reasonable limits to protect the value of her work and the strength of her relationships with clients and galleries, all of whom have a vested interest in the "consistent, stable value of [her] artwork."

It's important to remember that art auctions are often a major fundraising piece on which charities, galleries and artist run centres rely to keep their doors open and their programs serving the community and the arts. Gamble cites the Ottawa Art Gallery's auction model as one worth emulation. Many of their approaches as well as two other excellent non-profit arts centres in Ottawa, SAW Gallery and Gallery 101, are explained in more detail in the list below.

Here are ten ways to make charity art auctions both successful fundraisers and sustainable practices that are fairer to artists. These ideas can be explored in various combinations to find what works for you and the artists in your community.


1. Split the funds

"…Fundraisers can either keep the amount that is paid above the reserve price or set an agreed upon percentage. This reduces the loss of income to the artist to a more manageable level." - Barbara Gamble (B.G), Panelist and Professional Artist


2. Boost the valuable exposure to the artist

You might wonder, isn't any exposure good exposure? Well, not if the art is being sold for so little that it undermines the market value of the artists’ overall practice, weakening their business and that of galleries where there work is sold. Gamble related during the panel, "I've had the frequent experience of someone saying to me,' I love your work, I really want to get one someday'.... and then they've acquired my work at auction for below the stated commercial value of the piece. I get it - I appreciate a bargain too. Sadly though, to my knowledge, only one of those many people has come back and bought another artwork of mine at a gallery. A number of them have however, purchased a second and even a third work of mine at other auctions."

In cases like this, auction 'exposure' does more harm than good by turning someone who could have been a loyal client into an auction-deals-only type of purchaser, resulting in little to none of the funds from these sales ever reaching the artist.

So what counts as valuable exposure? To suggest a few:

  • displaying the artwork to the general public before or after the auction online
  • including professional artists on the jury
  • giving artists free entry to the event as respected guests/donors/professionals


3. Rotate the artists who are invited to participate annually

"I think one of the strongest things I remember, and that I experience, is that it’s always the same people at [and contributing to] these events." - Laura Margita, Panelist and Director/Curator at Gallery 101 (G101), Ottawa.

"One Newfoundland Labrador CARFAC member reported having received no less than 9 donation requests in 66 days. That amount would have represented close to one half of his annual artistic production." - B.G.


4. Let the artist set reserve bids 

Returning the art to the artist if it doesn't sell for a minimum amount "ensures that making a donation to a fundraiser doesn't devalue an artist's work or compete unfairly with the local market." - B.G.


5. Prominently post the retail value

This helps bidders understand the difference between the market value and what they're paying (whether it's above or below retail), and helps prevent false deflation of the retail value of the artwork.


6. Facilitate personal connections between buyers and the artist when possible

Striving to make the auction a legitimate opportunity for an artist to grow their client base and professional network will help offset the financial hit of donating work that would otherwise pay the bills. In Ottawa Art Gallery’s auction model, it seems artists are as much a part of the show as the work., “I am able to get the name of the purchaser of my work… Professional artists are always included on their jury, artists are given free entry to the event and treated with great respect. The Gallery often displays the artwork to the general public before or after the auction… All these things bring promotion to the artists involved... The OAG has listened to artists and at the same time raises excellent proceeds to sustain our municipal gallery. Their event is a model worth looking at." - B.G.

"We also put an image of the artists themselves so there was a familiarity with the patrons. We have a VIP event before the auction starts that allows for a collector group to meet artists." - Alexandra Badzak (A.B), Panelist and Director and CEO of Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG).


7. Encourage donations of small, less costly, or experimental work

Again, charity auctions can be more attractive to artists when they aren’t being asked to sell the major work that is their bread and butter. This model can be especially useful to fundraisers as an alternative to reserve bids, particularly for risk taking (and often risqué) artist-run centres/galleries such as SAW Gallery and Gallery 101, whose audiences are not necessarily made up of wealthy art collectors.


8. Try a Timeraiser

The only arts charity auction model that pays artists 100% of the value of their work. The organizers buy the artwork outright and sell it for volunteer hours. Find out more about Timeraiser here.


9. Ticketed Event with Small/Inexpensive Artworks

Small works valued at roughly the price of the ticket (perhaps $100-$200) are donated by artists, who are then guests of the event. Attendees draw numbers to see who gets first pick from the artworks, all of which are roughly equal in value and were not too expensive to donate.


10. "Buy it Now” - A Shortcut to Securing a Must-Have Artwork

At the Ottawa Art Gallery, "One community member… came up with the concept of ‘buy it now’, which allowed auction goers to pay market value right away. You didn’t have to wait for the closing of the gallery, which is the typical silent auction strategy; you could get it if you were willing to pay the market value and that’s been extremely successful." - Alexandra Badzak, Director and CEO of Ottawa Art Gallery


Thank you to the panelists and hosts of the discussion that made for such an interesting read. We really look forward to seeing the fruits of this research borne in an overarching set of best practices for charity art auctions. In the meantime, here are the takeaways I learned:

Artists: Remember to value your work and those who believe in and rely on the value of art. By standing up for the value of your work you help spread awareness, avoid donor fatigue, and maintain the health of your arts business. Your charitable efforts will have a much more positive effect all-round.

Arts groups/nonprofits/artist-run centres/galleries: Fundraising isn't easy. No organization fundraises unless they have to, so keep up your efforts, and just remember to explore all the ways to be fair to those you ask to donate work. When you make it worthwhile to the artists, you may find you're running a more successful fundraiser for everyone involved!






New Adventures

By Sonya Poweska

After three years with Guelph Arts Council, it is with mixed emotions that I say goodbye to Guelph. In my time at Guelph Arts Council, I enjoyed getting to know the artists, groups, community members, and patrons that make up this great city. I want to take this opportunity to thank members of the community for being so welcoming; thank you to the artists who strive to make Guelph one of Canada's great creative cities; and, thank you to each and every person who made arts and culture a priority in Guelph.

Since joining the team at Guelph Arts Council, I have had amazing opportunities to learn and share my experiences with artists both in and around Guelph. I promise to share these lessons, and learn some more, with the folks in Waterloo as I take on the new position of Culture Program Specialist at the City of Waterloo.

Guelph Arts Council has always been supported by a wonderful team of volunteers, Board of Directors, partner organizations, and staff. I am confident that they will continue to build the Arts Council and work towards great things. In the advent of Guelph Arts Council's 40thanniversary, there is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the successes of the community and the organization. I am very thankful to have been part of an organization with such a strong and successful history. I look forward to watching Guelph Arts Council over the next 40 years and participating as a citizen of Guelph as it continues to pursue the mission of advancing the arts and culture sector.

Thank you Guelph-- it's been a pleasure to get to know you.

Artfully yours,


Update: February - Create!

By Katie Wilde and Melissa Gobeil

As we continue our 12 Month Artful pledge, the staff at GAC are pleased to update you on what February: Create! meant to us.


February is a short month, and it felt even shorter with the high level of activity and change in my life at the moment. February may seem like a quiet month at Guelph Arts Council but we're taking applications for Art on the Street and Wall of Art, planning workshops, Walking Tours, and Doors Open Guelph, looking for a new Executive Director, developing creative spaces, and assisting members and the community on the daily. I'm not a fan of the b-word, but honestly, it's been busy!

Outside of work, I'd been practicing some pretty challenging music for Guelph Concert Band (which I joined last month for January's theme "Join") was performing for our February 22 concert at the River Run. I may have done some permanent damage to my partner's eardrums practicing Cuban Overture at home.

So how have I found time to "Create"? Well, it's had to come in bits and pieces. I've been feeling down about how little time lately I've been able to spend on the painting I've been developing for months. When I look back over the month of February, my creative time has come in the form of stolen moments whenever I could get them or incorporate them into my day-to-day life.


On Mondays I volunteer at 10 Carden, and on some Tuesdays I do temporary advertisements for Benefit Health and Wellness, who works out of 10 Carden 3 days each month. Drawing on the chalkboard was challenging at first, but I'm growing to enjoy it more and more.

Sometimes when it's hard to find time to work on my own long-term projects, a sudden need to show love and appreciation to someone important can be the kick in the pants needed to create in little bursts. A beloved mentor of mine had a birthday this month. I knew it was coming but it managed to sneak up on me anyway. So, even though I normally use oil paints and haven't touched acrylics for years, I busted out the old tubes for their fast-drying qualities, and powered through a little bird to give as a gift.




Even half an hour of down time before a concert can be enough to draw up a little handmade card to thank someone who has brightened the life of your band. It may seem like nothing to you, but people's reactions to your small creation - whether doodles, a handmade card, something knitted or sewn, a verse written or a song sung - will often make you and those around you way happier than you thought they would. And while I still believe that making time for difficult and ambitious creations is important, what this February has taught me is that stolen moments of creativity are worth far more than they seem.



This crisp cold month forced most of us indoors, and while Netflix by the fireside may have called (loudly), I made sure to make room for my creative practice and to remember that I am an artist first.

While at the workbench a couple of weeks ago, I was working on a prototype of a locket for a client, when a new idea made its way into my head.

This may sound like total distraction from the project at hand, but it wasn’t. You see, this is how the jewellery studio operates. At the bench, you usually have a few projects on the go.

STUDIO mG-scaled-photocredMelissaGObeil

The reason for this is that there are forced waiting times in between certain stages of the process. Sometimes you have annealed a piece of metal (making it softer with heat so it’s easier to work with) and then it goes in the pickle (a hot vat of acid that eats away the oxides that form on the surface after soldering)for a while. So, while waiting for these processes you find you have some time on your hands.

This day in the studio, while waiting for this little locket to come out of the pickle, I noticed a piece of 18k yellow gold wire that was sitting on my bench. Then I noticed a piece of sterling silver wire of the same diameter sitting beside it and decided to join them to make a ring. In this case, I used a lower karat solder (with a melting point that wouldn’t melt either the 18k gold or the sterling silver) to solder the two pieces together before turning it into a ring (for the curious, see the how-to ring making process below.) The result was a lovely, subtle piece that now rests on my finger, reminding me to keep my hands moving and make time to play and create.

I hope your February was wonderful, that you found time to create something new this month, and that the results were delightfully unexpected!


Bonus Background - How to make a ring:

Most rings start off as a long piece of metal called a “ring blank." The maker first determines the ring size and then does a calculation to figure out how long to make the “ring blank.”

This “ring blank” is then cut, filed, and measured carefully in millimeters. Then it is annealed (softened) again, pickled (cleaned) again and then formed by hand into a “D” shape before it being soldered closed.

After soldering the ring closed, it goes back in the pickle. When it is done, the solder gets filed off, the ring gets formed into a perfect circle (using a rawhide hammer and madrel). To finish, the entire piece is sanded and polished. And voila! - you have a ring.

This, my friends, is the reason that you see so many projects on a goldsmith’s bench!


3 Things You May Not Know About Artists Rights in Canada

By Katie Wilde

When I set about writing this article, I had planned to do Five Things You May Not Know…  As it turns out, the issue of artists’ rights in Canada is a deep dark vortex that seems to go on forever. I’ve cut my originally ambitious goal down to discuss the three areas that seemed the most interesting and timely: the myth of lost copyright, the fight for a minimum wage for artists, and Canada being named as a country that pays the lowest musicians’ royalties in the world. Though I’ve only included three here, there is a lot more to be explored. I encourage readers to click the links included below, and to explore related stories and resources. If you come across something that interests you, or you have questions about, please let me know. It’s possible that we’ll revisit the topic in another article. We are interested to hear what you, our readers, have to say.


1. Myth:  "If I sell or give away the original artwork, I lose the copyright"

I'm surprised at how often I hear this one. However, it gives me an excuse to use the somewhat odd phrase, "I've got good news, you're wrong on this one!" The truth is that in Canada, the copyright for an original work of art, whether it be music or visual art, is with the artist automatically as soon as the work is created, and lasts either until they sell the copyright or until the copyright expires, 50 years after their death. Although the works don't need to be marked with the international copyright symbol for the copyright to exist, this doesn't mean an artist can't do more to protect their copyright, especially when work is shared online or available internationally. Given that in our digital age, sharing, borrowing, and illegal use is so much easier than it used to be -and that the internet is by default international - copyright bodies recommend that artists do everything they can to protect and defend their copyrights. This applies to visual artworks, music, film, and writing. Marking your work with the international copyright symbol, your name, and year of first publication (or of creation for unpublished works) is one way to show, in the event of a dispute, that you did everything within your power to communicate the ownership of the copyright. Whatever type of art you do, there is probably one or more Canadian Copyright Collective Society who looks after the issues for that artform. For a full list see the Copyright Board of Canada's list of Copyright Collective Societies.

As a side note, there are exceptions to the copyright automatically being owned by the artists. For example, see visualartcopyright.com's terminology list for a plain English summary, specifically Work for Hire, and Commission.


2. Canadian art advocates took fight for minimum artist fees to the Supreme Court of Canada - and won

If you're not familiar with the way visual artists make a living, it's not quite as simple as make a painting, sell a painting. Many artworks have the most impact on a society when they are exhibited in a public gallery setting and many aren't really suitable for home purchase (think Brian Jungen’s Shapeshifter). Works of art are copyright-protected, and in Canada, public exhibition is tied up with copyright law. Artists must be paid when their work is shared with the public, whether it be in a book or live in the gallery. Because of the cross-over with copyright law however, there was some confusion as to whether artists should be paid according to minimum national standards, or negotiated individually.

The short version of this story is that the National Gallery wanted to negotiate with each individual artist on their pay, rather than following the Canadian Artists Representation (CARFAC) fee schedule. The CARFAC Fee Schedule is a collectively bargained set of 'minimum wage' guidelines for artists. It is one of the few ways artists can be somewhat guaranteed a decent living wage. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, there is a concern that artists will be reluctant to say 'no' to a showing at a prestigious national institution, leaving them vulnerable to being bullied into accepting unfairly low pay. The second is that the more artists who accept low fees, the harder it is for the rest of us to fight for fair minimum pay - and it devalues the hard-earned professional work of all artists and arts advocates.

Since 2003, Canadian arts advocacy organizations CARFAC and RAAV had been in negotiations with the National Gallery on a collective bargaining agreement to ensure a "minimum wage" for exhibiting artists, in accordance with the Status of the Artist Act. However, in 2007, the National Gallery's legal advice argued that they could go by the Copyright Act instead, which "favours individual over collective negotiations", and the courts granted approval.

"The gallery essentially argued CARFAC and RAAV [Regroupement des Artistes en Arts Visuels du Quebec, CARFAC’s Quebecois counterpart] were taking away the right of artists to be paid less if they chose," CARFAC said in a news release.

CARFAC and RAAV took the issue to the Supreme Court, and in May of last year, the court unanimously rejected the National Gallery's argument by allowing the appeal of the earlier ruling. Not only did they favour the appeal, they ruled "immediately after oral arguments" -- a heartening success when one considers that it typically it takes months to receive a decision from the Supreme Court.

Shortly after, the National Gallery released a statement, which stated in part, "The NGC is ready to go back to the negotiation table after the written judgment is rendered."

We wish our fellow arts advocates, artists, and the National Gallery great success in negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement that will help keep the arts and artists alive and well in Canada.


3. Tariff 8: Canada sets royalty rates for musicians at a disappointing 10% of international standard

According to a report by Music Canada, the already difficult task of making a living as a professional musician in Canada is not getting any easier. With the reality of declining CD and download sales, rentable web-based streaming services like Pandora are fast becoming the way music enters homes and brightens the lives of Canadians. Recently, the Copyright Board of Canada issued a long-overdue decision on what rates musicians should be paid for their work that is made available for listening through these services. Rather than basing royalties off marketplace rates and international precedent as suggested by Re:Sound, which would "certify that music in Canada has the same value as music in the United States and elsewhere around the world," the Copyright Board of Canada set them at 10% of "marketplace rates freely negotiated in Canada (and equivalent to those in the U.S. and around the world)." According to Music Canada, this decision was made in order to avoid having to raise SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) rates by 90% to match.   

From a Music Canada Q&A on the subject:

"Even royalty rates in the United States – which are 90% higher – are hotly contested as musicians, including songwriters, fight for fairer compensation. With Tariff 8 rates set at 10% of a standard that is already considered to be far too low, it will make it even harder for Canadian musicians to make a living and to thrive internationally while digital music companies continue to grow and flourish.”

And just to put this in perspective, an article published in the Globe and Mail last week reported that one of the most popular songs of the year, Happy, by world-famous pop artist Pharrell Williams was streamed 43 MILLION times on Pandora. Care to take a guess at the giant pile of cash he made in royalties? $25,000 total. Author of the article, Elizabeth Renzetti, drives the point home:

"And that’s Pharrell, who sits atop music’s golden throne. If he’s earning tiny digital royalties, what does that say for the artists further down the chain, in the grubby realm of mere mortals? Toronto songwriter Diana Williamson, who recently moved back from L.A., told me about a song she’d co-written that had reached 260,000 downloads and made it to No. 3 on the Billboard dance chart. She hadn’t seen a penny in royalties. To complain about rip-off downloading, she said in an interview, is to invite 'abuse from the mob. But if those fans were bakers, they wouldn’t be giving away their croissants for free.'"


A note about MROC, CARFAC/CARCC and where to get further information on artists’ rights in Canada

We’d be remiss not to mention the unsung heroes at Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC). The PI’s of musicians’ rights, MROC does some amazing detective work to track down musicians who performed on recordings, some of whom aren’t even credited in the album notes. Once found, MROC makes sure the artists receive the royalties coming to them.

CARFAC is the closest thing Canadian visual and performance artists have to a professional union, and CARCC is their licensing and copyright agency. For artists who feel a bit out of their depth managing licensing contracts or hiring a copyright lawyer, CARCC can manage copyright and licensing on an artist's behalf. When you're not sure what to charge for your art, or budget to hire an artist, CARFAC publishes detailed fee schedules (like a minimum wage for artists) publicly online - you don't have to be a member to access each year's fee schedule online. The fee schedule is a great help both to artists and those who use and exhibit their work.

Don't forget to visit this list of Copyright Collective Societies for resources on all types of arts, from film and media to music, literature, and visual arts. 







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