Slog: News & Arts

RSS icon Comments on Juan Alonso: No More Donations

1

This is a good letter explaining, in detail, the sentiments of the only monetarily successful artist I know: never give anything away.

Posted by 30-30 | October 10, 2008 11:28 AM
2

It's about time. The first thing Development Directors learn at their retreats is how to stage an "art auction." Then they go out and hit up artists and galleries for donations. And they think it's a big deal because they offer "exposure." Worse are the collectors who patronize these auctions. They look for bargains by "established" artists but never set foot in the galleries that work hard to build their artist's reputations. Thank you, Juan, I hope this starts a boycott of these parasites .

Posted by crazycatguy | October 10, 2008 11:30 AM
3

I understand, and respect, his point. He should be allowed to write off the donation, it is strange that he can't.

I know that a lot of small businesses struggle with this issue, even though they can write off donations, because they get bombarded with so many requests. A local toy store had to finally stop donating because they were overwhelmed with requests.

I attended a preschool auction with a friend that raised something like $300,000 for the preschool (and was told they raise a similar amount every year). I was shocked. This is a school that the parents already have to pay to have their children attend. The auction was for "scholarships and teacher retirement." WTF? $300,000 is a fuckwad of cash for a tiny preschool.

I do wonder what the current economic downturn will do to those organizations depending at least partially on funding themselves with auction money.

Posted by PopTart | October 10, 2008 11:31 AM
4

hey Jen. You know those are juan alanzo's hanging in the hallway outside editorial.

Posted by terry miller | October 10, 2008 11:42 AM
5

This guy is spot on.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 10, 2008 11:46 AM
6

An excellent point. Small neighborhood restaurants are point number 2 for them to call, equally ironic, as they have TINY profit margins and more often than not already donate far more than they are allowed to deduct. Think about that next time you decide what restaurant to patronize.

Posted by TGG | October 10, 2008 11:46 AM
7

Wow. What a dick. Just say "no." Or maybe "I'm not able to donate."

Posted by pbaitch | October 10, 2008 12:00 PM
8

@7, it's about education, because nobody gets it. Every designer & artist is asked for pro bono work, donations, spec work, and contests, and usually the enticement is exposure. It's a crock of shit. You don't ask a car mechanic to donate his services and expect him to do it so much that he stops making money. Stop asking the same of artists.

Posted by EmilyP | October 10, 2008 12:08 PM
9

Oh oh....

I am unable to comment polite-ly, and re-spec-t-fully here... a-bout the roar-schct tes-ters...be-cause of sex-ism...

naugh-ty fu-nny girls like Sa-rah Sil-ver-man and the Lamb Chop OH (ohio) 10.07.08 pu-ppet pict-ure and nak-ed-ness.

If you read this and you hear it in com-pu-ter voice, don't sat "i did'nt warn ya."

d,jm.

Posted by danielbennettkieneker | October 10, 2008 12:11 PM
10

It's a fundraiser's job to ask. It's a donor's job to weigh the case for support and determine if they a) are inspired by the cause and b) can afford to support it. Fundraiser's don't expect to hear yes every time, but they'll never hear yes if they don't ask. Artists may frequently be asked because the fact of the matter is, art generates great fundraising outcomes. Like any other responsible philanthropist, Juan needs to learn when and how to simply say "no". No need to pick a fight with charities and the fundraising professionals working to finance them.

Posted by jenipeep | October 10, 2008 12:12 PM
11

I agree with thoughts on this, but kinda like what #7 says, why not just say "no"? Artists always want to be heard, I guess.

Posted by Dougsf | October 10, 2008 12:13 PM
12

What a relief to hear this from any artist, financially successful or not. The only way artists are going to get better treatment is to start behaving like they deserve it.
pbaitch @7, I think you missed the point entirely. If clearly stating one's motives for artistic advancement and self-respect makes makes them a dick, we should all strive to be dicks.
I'm starting right now, in fact.

Posted by The Bailiff | October 10, 2008 12:15 PM
13

It's a fundraiser's job to ask. It's a donor's job to carefully weigh the case for support and decide a) if they are inspired by the cause and b) if they can afford to support it. Fundraisers don't expect to hear "yes" everytime they ask, but if they'll never hear yes if they don't ask. Artists are asked often because art generates great fundraising outcomes. Like all responsible philanthropists, Juan needs to learn how and when to say "no". No need to pick a fight with charities or the fundraising professionals who work to finance them.

Posted by jenipeep | October 10, 2008 12:16 PM
14

Yeah, the letter doesn't explain why he can't just say 'no' without all the drama. What's purpose is served by this?

Posted by elenchos | October 10, 2008 12:25 PM
15

Same is true for musicians & dancers as well. (And I would note, as someone who has worked on many fundraisers for non-profits, musicians are usually the first to be called when it's time for a fundraiser; visual artists are at best a close second.)

The problem is really the explosion in the number of fundraisers per organization per year.

In the 80s & 90s government Arts funding largely dried up and was replaced - the extent possible - by private donations, often through these arts related fund raising vehicles. This was a somewhat viable option for Seattle during the DotCom boom, but now that the easy moneys and excess (illusions of) wealth are gone, so are all these funding resources. And as yet, no alternative funding source or non-profit revenue stream has replaced them.

Posted by Tim Rhodes | October 10, 2008 12:26 PM
16

@7 - Perhaps. I mean, perhaps the guy is a dick, but probably not so much.

A careful reading of the letter will show that it's very likely intended for a sympathetic audience. This is not the type of thing you'd see being sent out to fund-raisers. It is exactly the type of letter one might pen to clarify their own position and illicit feedback or action from peers.

The writer is obviously tired of being asked to donate his work. You are quite right to suggest that, when asked, he should respond by saying, "I am unable to donate at this time," or "I no longer intend to donate my works." If the fund-raising organization cares to ask why (and believe me, they will) then a polite explanation of his position will, no doubt, be understood.

Posted by 30-30 | October 10, 2008 12:31 PM
17

The only art auction I ever attended was at Butterfield's in San Francisco. I got my first Muybridge at that one...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | October 10, 2008 1:18 PM
18

I'm a Development Director Ė and a WA State board member for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and I do some consulting Ė and I don't do auctions. I HATE auctions. The ROI is too low; the hustle factor is too high. It's much more cost and time effective to explain a case for support, develop relationships, and then just ask people for money.

I did an auction as a part of a gala for the first two years in my current position, since that's what my predecessor did. When I nixed the auction, replacing it with a "raise the paddle" (also known as "fund a need") and carefully seeded the room with lead gifts, my gala revenue doubled. And I didn't have to procure items, print a catalogue, or fulfill purchases.

Also: people who need to get something in order to give aren't the sort of people I want as donors. I want people who are eager to invest in the mission of the institution and the people it serves. There are plenty of these folks around (thank god) and they stick with you through thick and thin. Who wants to spend time with people who come to your event just because they like dressing up and buying crap they donít need? Not me.

In theory, giving to an auction provides the event with increased leverage -- the ability to multiply the financial return of the donated good or service. But, unless youíre an art school auctioning art, or you have some other similar mission-based auction, raising money through the auctioning of goods and services necessarily dilutes the case for support, diminishing the effectiveness of pure development efforts. Itís these pure development efforts that generate the most return and are most durable in times of economic retraction.

And last: The idea that visual artists are the first to be asked to donate goods is absurd. Winemakers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, performing arts groups, and many others are all more frequently targeted than visual artists.

Posted by Josef Krebs | October 10, 2008 1:20 PM
19

The types of organizations that seem most fond of the art auction, benefit the attendees not the visual arts or the common good. See fancy preschools.

Posted by an observer | October 10, 2008 1:48 PM
20

The late Isaac Azimov was frequently asked to give permission for free re-print rights to fundraisers putting together a book or mag for charity. He always refused. Not because he couldn't afford to do so, but because he recognized that if he, famous author, gave away rights, that act would be used to bully young writers to waive their right to be paid for their work.

Posted by Karl Schuck | October 10, 2008 1:51 PM
21

I want to tag onto something @18 said. I've been to a lot of charity auctions and the thing that frustrates me more than anything are the "bargain shoppers."

Look, assholes, the point of the auction is to raise money for the charity. Why, yes, they did get that item donated so any money they raise they do get (in most cases).

But, for fuck's sake Ms. "I'm so Rich I'm Dripping in Diamonds" don't you think you could shell out a little bit extra to help the cause you deemed good enough to show up for? But, instead you are squealing to your equally be-jeweled friends about how you just "won" a trip valued at $5000 for only $2000.

The last laugh, however, is on you Diamond Bitch, because you can only write off what you donate above the value of the item.

Thus endeth my rant.

Posted by PopTart | October 10, 2008 2:23 PM
22

I know Juan. He's not a dick. He's a very nice guy. He's not a wanna-be artist either; he's actually making a living, more-or-less, off his art.

I completely agree with his rant. I'm also an artist (though not of his caliber), and get asked to donate to auctions all the time. It has always bothered me, because these charities do seem to ask a lot from low income people (artists, musicians, small startup businesses, etc.). I used to donate to quite a few auctions, but he's right. The "exposure" is completely worthless. I can't pay my bills with "exposure", and I've never received a single referral or paying gig as a result of donating to these auctions. I haven't stopped donating completely, but I now limit my donations to just a few a year. I got tired of feeling like I was being used.

If Juan was being asked to give away more art than he was actually selling, that's crazy. If they all want his art so bad, maybe they should actually pay for it some of the time, so he can afford to keep creating more.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | October 10, 2008 3:15 PM
23

I've never understood why artists are the single most hit upon source for non profit donations - they are one of the lowest paid jobs in American society.

Here's the paradox: Visual arts objects border on valueless in America. Given this fact, why do fundraisers even ask for such low value donations? Conversely why don't fundraisers seek out the more valuable donations? What would those be: Automobiles, clothing, jewelry, jewels, real estate, stock certificates (!) - you get the idea. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

If American government supported the arts (as governments do in Canada and throughout Europe) we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Juan Alonso is not really complaining about requests for donations. He's drawing a line in the sand: My art is more valuable than society thinks it is. I am now pricing it at it's true value. Get used to it.

Posted by Oh that | October 10, 2008 4:25 PM
24

I've never understood why artists are the single most hit upon source for non profit donations - they are one of the lowest paid jobs in American society.

Here's the paradox: Visual arts objects border on valueless in America. Given this fact, why do fundraisers even ask for such low value donations? Conversely why don't fundraisers seek out the more valuable donations? What would those be: Automobiles, clothing, jewelry, jewels, real estate, stock certificates (!) - you get the idea. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

If American government supported the arts (as governments do in Canada and throughout Europe) we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Juan Alonso is not really complaining about requests for donations. He's drawing a line in the sand: My art is more valuable than society thinks it is. I am now pricing it at it's true value. Get used to it.

Posted by Oh that | October 10, 2008 4:25 PM
25

A dialogue on this issue (pro & con) is one of the best things that could have come from my letter. And yes, I could just say no, but I think people deserve to know why and most people don't know about the dissadvantage of tax laws for artists donating work. Also, if I were to list some of the "causes" I get asked to help, some people may have gone ballistic. I just tried to express some thoughts as clearly as I am able. Everyone should/will do what is best for her/him.

Posted by Juan Alonso | October 11, 2008 9:22 AM
26

This is very interesting that Juan is stating this...he is a good friend of mine, and I love and admire his talent. I have felt this pressure as a photographer to donate, and have given so much of my time and resources to auctions, etc. It is hard to keep up sometimes.

I appreciate him saying this- it makes my personal feelings on this valid. I was supposed to receive a mere bottle of wine for winning "honorable Mention" at the 2008 PONCHO art auction, and am yet to receive this prize. PONCHO sold my "El Vez" piece for over the value I placed on it. This wine is special because it has a Juan Alonzo print on it as it's label. I actually would still really like to receive this. PONCHO wouldn't let me bring my fiance to the auction because that was one less head likely to bid on art. I went solo.

In the end...my craft needs funding too. As does Juan's.

Posted by Blush Photo | October 12, 2008 7:18 PM
27

I think, at any auction, the artist should get 50%, and bidding should START at the fair market value.

Posted by Sue Talksaboutart | October 13, 2008 11:04 AM
28

it sounds like juan may have problematically reached the same consensus that many people reach on pan handling when they decide to no longer give. a lot of the time this becomes a negative thing because people can't help but need one another. maybe, rather than not give, give conservatively.

artists that are fortunate enough to make their living off of their work owe donations to the rest of the struggling world because they most likely have struggled and have met times of need in their own careers. i think people ask artists for donations regularly because artists are assumed to be cool people who care about the struggle.

besides, it looks like juan's paintings only take a small amount of time anyways (as he can shop the resin or whatever it is out in assembly line fashion). come on juan, give. give juan, give.

Posted by kirby keebler | October 13, 2008 6:01 PM
29

Ahhhhhh....Kirby Keebler,
I was hoping to continue this dialogue on the level of intelligent conversation including opposing views, but somebody had to bring it down to cheap shots. Even the person that called me a dick and the Sarah Silverman fan, shot with a sense of humor, which I appreciated. The problem with your dismissive comment about my "assembly line" is that it doesn't affect me at this point, but with that "my kid could do that" type of comment, you are belittling (all) artists, galleries, museums, art critics, and collectors. On top of it, it's not new, we've all heard it before. Whatever issue you may have with my work has nothing to do with my letter or the many artists that ARE struggling on a daily basis, putting our work out there and simply hoping, whether people like the work or not, that we are respected for doing what is in our hearts and souls.

Posted by Juan Alonso | October 13, 2008 7:19 PM
30

#28, SHAME ON YOU! Artists who sell their work are already paying taxes on their art sales. The very successful/wealthy artists are in a higher tax bracket- which requires them to pay more than struggling artists. Why are you suggesting that artists owe more than what is expected of other people in other professions?

Hey, you should visit the Art Walk in Pioneer Square. There you may visit Juan's studio and catch a glimpse of his colorful, brilliant pieces.

Posted by Blush Photo | October 13, 2008 9:15 PM
31

BRAVO! Thank you Juan for speaking loudly about what undermines the integrity of artists and our work. I totally concur. For those who posted comments and never grasped the essence of Juan's concerns, I offer this advice: It is far better to remain silent and let people think you are an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. I don't have to call out your numbers, you know who you are (or, duh, do you?)

Posted by Florence | October 14, 2008 2:45 AM
32

Since the conversation has at times veered way off track from the intent of my letter, I'd like to reiterate some points taken directly from it and also say that creating awareness for some thoughts that many artists have had besides me, was the goal. I think it is perfectly fine for anyone, regardless of their ocupation to express their opinion if they feel they or their profession is being disrespected or misunderstood in any way or form. This is not a blame game, just observations and a personal decision, that's all.

These are directly copied from my letter at the top:

*I feel lucky and blessed to be an artist and have the opportunity to create for a living

*I have donated, and have done so willingly

*Under current laws, our skill, talent and labor is seen as worthless and it might be a good idea for some of the organizations asking artists for work to start lobbying governmental agencies to change their policies
(To encourage artists to continue giving)

*I'm suspending all donations of MY artwork in order to make a living at my job as an artist (I will donate cash when I can instead of artwork)

Now, another point that may have been misunderstood is this: If you own a furniture store and are asked for a donation, you donate the chair you purchased from the manufacturer and just like artists, you only get to deduct the cost of the chair you bought. The difference here is that it took the furniture store minutes to order and unload the chair. There was not much labor involved or lost in the donation process. If an artist donates a work of art, the hours, days or weeks that it took to create that work is currently not recognized as a donation; only the cost of the materials. In most cases, what makes some artworks valuable is the artist's talent, reputation, list of accomplishments, etc. Not the price of the canvas.
I'm not saying there aren't other professions where this is also the case. I can only speak about what I know. If others feel the same about the laws affecting their finances, I would hope they would speak out as well.
Again, nobody forced me to donate in the past and now, nobody is forcing me to stop donating. It is a decision I've made (for myself) and I thought I'd let people (in a form letter so it is not personal, as many people take it that way)know MY reasons.

I do hope the dialogue continues in a respectful way in which really listening to what someone is saying is equally important to how one responds. We can't all agree, but I do think we can disagree respectfully.

Juan Alonso

Posted by Juan Alonso | October 15, 2008 6:33 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.