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  • What Not to Do at Charity Art Auction Fundraisers

    I attend a lot of charity art auction fundraisers that range in organization and execution from superb to tragic. Occasionally I see one that's so poorly run and painful to watch, that perhaps the time has come to provide a few pointers about how NOT to run charity fundraiser art auctions.

    First and foremost, use an experienced auctioneer who is familiar with art, knows how to sell it and has a successful track record of selling at fundraisers. Do not use an artist, an employee of the organization that's conducting the auction, or anyone else who thinks they can auction art, but who lacks fundraising auction skills and experience. The auctioneer should arrive at the sale early, get familiar with the art to be auctioned, and be provided with basic information about each work and the artist who created it. You can never spend too much time prepping the auctioneer.

    An auctioneer who doesn't know art will have difficulty describing and selling it. He'll use run-on sentences, make vague or unintelligible attempts to talk about the art and its artists, and be unable to create any sense of excitement among bidders. I recall an auctioneer at one particular sale who was not only inexperienced, but was also apparently seeing many of the artworks for the very first time at the moments they came up for sale. He struggled to make sense of much of this art for himself as well as for the viewers, and made weak attempts to stimulate bidding in between fumbling for the right words.

    To make matters worse, he talked about how beautiful everything was, occasionally throwing in a handful of art words which he used over and over again to describe a variety of different mediums regardless of whether the descriptives were accurate or not. The results were disastrous for the organization because what invariably happens when bidders don't get a sense of what they're bidding on is that they either bid low or not at all-- which is exactly what happened here.

    For artists donating art, never overstate its value in order to make it seem like it's more significant than it actually is. Use values that are in line with prices that you normally sell comparable works of art for. Some of the art I see at fundraiser auctions is so ridiculously overvalued that the estimated dollar amounts as stated by the auctioneers are laughable to anyone who knows anything about art. You don't want your art to sell too low, of course, but what you really don't want is for it not to sell at all.

    Don't deluge the organization receiving your art with names of every single show you've ever had or every single sale you've ever made. Your life story has no place in a fast-paced art auction offering pieces by dozens and sometimes hundreds of artists. Three or four career highlights is all an auctioneer normally has time for, and all the buildup that those in attendance can take before they start getting bored. You want to make yourself look good and you want to do it fast. Give the auction any more information than a handful of highlights and you force them to either ramble on ad infinitum, putting the crowd to sleep, or to edit things down to what they think sounds good rather than what you know sounds good.

    Don't be vague about or overstate your accomplishments when providing career information or your resume. Don't claim, for example, that you're a distinguished or accomplished artist unless you can back it up with facts like awards you've won, exhibitions you've had, and significant collections that have acquired your art. For example, the statement "John Smith's paintings are in many important collections" means nothing unless John Smith can corroborate it with facts about what collections his art is actually in.

    Don't misrepresent yourself or play with words when describing your accomplishments. For example, if you participated in a group show of student work at the local art museum when you were in art school, don't make it sound like you exhibited at the museum in your current career as an artist, or even worse yet, that you had a solo show there.

    Unless the people attending a fundraising auction are mainly knowledgeable dealers, collectors and other fine arts professionals, provide the organization you're donating to with basic information and statements about you and your art that average everyday people who don't know a lot about art can understand. Avoid art jargon, complicated explanations and lofty unintelligible rhetoric. Make your statement no longer than two to four sentences and keep it simple, like telling people what you make, why you make it, or what it signifies.

    Don't donate a piece of junk art that you're tired of looking at or that's been gathering dust in your studio since the Bronze Age. Knowledgeable bidders can often tell when a piece of art is something that the artist would rather get rid of than be proud of. Remember that donating your art to a charity fundraising auction is not only about you. It's about the cause that you're helping to raise money for. Also keep in mind that you don't want inferior examples of your art, or art that doesn't speak to your true abilities as an artist, representing you either at public events or in private collections.

    For more information on how to conduct successful charity fundraiser art auctions, read Art Auction Fundraiser Tips for Everyone.

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