I’m going to make a bold statement: Avoid selling traditional art in your live auction, unless you are an exclusive art auction.
Traditional art pieces are items like unique silent auction ideas sculptures, paintings, drawings, and mixed media which are produced by a professional artist who makes his or her living from selling artwork – are risky auction items for the standard, non-art benefit auction.
Art is too subjective. What I like, you don’t. What fits my home decor, doesn’t match yours. Art has limited appeal, and the goes against the most general of fundraising auction strategies which is to select auction items with broad appeal.
Are there exceptions? Of course!
Your school can sell artwork made by the children. And an arts organization whose entire focus is on art may have an art-loving and art-buying crowd (although even art auctions can be tweaked).
Despite best intentions, sometimes art is included in the live auction. Perhaps a respected donor insists that you sell her artwork, or a renegade Board member has a best friend who happens to be a “great” artist. What do you do then?
Consider these auction tips:
Well-known local artists will sell better than non-local artists.
An Orville Bulman reproduction had aggressive bidding activity in Palm Beach, FL fundraiser. A Sara Linda Poly landscape sold immediately at the highest price point available in Arlington, VA. These local-to-the-area artists enjoyed great sales, but switch these two pieces of art to the other location and watch the bidding suffer. Your guests will enjoy supporting local talented artists.
Ask for a piece with an achievable price point for your audience.
An artist might regularly sell his pieces for $10,000, but if your audience is a $2000 top-end crowd, you’re going to have a lot of work ahead of you to get that piece to sell close to value. Give the artist a price range of what your audience typically spends on various items so he can select something appropriate.
Never put art in the live auction just because the artist suggests you should.
Artists want to protect their reputation. They don’t want to sell a piece for less than a given price because they are afraid it will affect the value of their other artwork. Some make a donation with the stipulation that the item can’t sell unless it reaches a given price.
On the flip side, your charity isn’t concerned about the artist’s reputation. You merely want the money to support your cause!
If you are offered a piece of art with this stipulation, you might be better off to decline the donation because the piece might never sell.
Earlier this year I worked an auction where the same piece of art has been for sale three times in a silent auction! No one would buy it for the mandated price. The print has become a ball-and-chain donation. The event manager is now the responsible agent for the item, moving it from storage to venue each year, and taking responsibility for protecting it from damage. The audience has seen that same print for three years in a row. Can we say, “BORRRRing!”