Drawing the Line

21 03 2012

Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.  G.K.Chesterton

Jane is a tiny Mennonite woman who would disappear in a woman’s size 8 dress.  There is more energy packed into that wee, bony frame than you would find in a busload of grade 7 boys off to Canada’s Wonderland.   She is using that energy to make the world a better place.

Jane walks six kilometers to work each day where she manages a 10,000 Villages store. When she comes home in the afternoon, she usually has guests from all over the world who are eager to have supper with her, for she cooks better than Julia Child ever did.  And I’m not talking about just a few guests.  Often her husband has to expand the table with a 4X8 ft piece of plywood to seat everyone. She grows a huge garden as well.

There is a very specific reason why Jane comes to mind as I write this post which is a conclusion to my earlier blog, A Freeze on Freebies.  Jane believes strongly in fair trade and buying local.  Not just in her own personal business transactions with the local farmers, artists and suppliers, but in her professional life, too.  Whenever possible, she buys everything locally.  Her store is entirely a fair trade store. When this was not enough for her deep-seated sense of justice, Jane made her whole town into a fair trade town recently – the very first in Ontario.  

Everyone in her town knows Jane and everyone loves to do business with this generous soul who happily pays the extra cost to support local business.  It has paid off.  Her community is flourishing.  Jane is the recipient of many community awards.   Though a humble, giving soul who normally would shy away from the limelight, she has become a sought-after speaker throughout the province.

We can learn a lot from Jane and from her fair trade community.  We can start with seeking out local talent and honouring it, not exploiting it.   That means, it’s high time to dispense with the traditional, charity-sponsored art auctions, where art that has been donated by the starving artist is auctioned off to generate funds to support a charity or organization.  It’s a lose/lose kind of game.  The art never fetches the true value of the item auctioned off, because people come to an auction more to get a bargain than to support a charity.   

Charity art auctions just don’t work for artists.  That promised “great exposure” is ultimately detrimental to the artist who risks losing the confidence of previous customers who have paid full price for her art.  Furthermore, art going for bargain prices at an auction is a humiliation and a discouragement to the artist, as well as a loss to the charity. 

Why not hold a new kind of fundraiser art auction where everyone involved wins?  One that brings dignity to the artist, funds the charity and gets the purchaser a work that he really values (because he paid a decent price for it.)  Instead of asking the artist to donate her work, have a rich patron, or corporation, buy the art from the artist, then he can afford to donate it to the charity for auction.  (Just make sure there is a reserve price attached to it under which it cannot be sold.)  Such a person could benefit from a tax exemption for charitable donations.  This way everyone wins.

Paying for the art is supremely important for several reasons.  The artist is probably living well below the poverty line, so you are already supporting a needy charity right off the bat, before the auction even begins.   Selling thrills and encourages the artist to forge ahead in her art, to grow and blossom.  When the artists in a community feel valued, supported and happy, rather than exploited, the whole community benefits.

The old way of targeting artists again and again for freebies is exploitative and out-of-date.   Some things need to change.  We artists are used to drawing lines.  We need to draw the line when organizations come knocking at our doors for freebies.  We would rather give a donation of money, like everyone else, than let our art go for free.  

I think of what Jane has done for her community.  It was by paying cheerfully a fair price.  There doesn’t have to be any losers.

I would like to hear your suggestions, dear readers, on how to respond fairly to fundraisers.  How can we establish fair trade in our own community, particularly in regard to supporting the arts?

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2 responses

22 03 2012
feistyredhair

I do like the idea you’ve mentioned to me before about asking all parties involved in a particular fundraiser to offer free services, such as guest speakers and caterers and decorators and venue owners. The responsibility to volunteer should at least be a shared one, not just the burden of the artist whose product is being auctioned.

8 04 2012
Jane Nigh

Dearest Elizabeth, I draw the line at your description of me. You paint a too glorified picture my dear. But then your glasses are always rose-tinted when it comes to family.

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