Free Art

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


The Village of Arts and Humanities, Philadelphia

I decided to not let the fact that I don’t have anything to say get in the way of putting up posts. It doesn’t seem to stop anyone else.

I managed to make it through my coupon obsession without actually setting up a database to track the Dollar a Day coupon guy’s purchases, and thankfully his project is now over. (He did a lot of foraging and he used coupons to get a lot of things that he didn’t actually eat, and I really wanted to see how much he spent on the food he actually ate. But in the spirit of finishing projects I will get paid for before spending hours and hours on things that no one else but me is even remotely interested in, I decided to hold off.)

But I was waiting for some files to copy and looked at Coupon Guy’s site to see if he was up to anything lately and looked again at his Penny Experiment site, where he’s trying to parlay a penny he found on the ground into a million dollars in food donated to local food banks.

This is obviously a very generous project and he’s putting a lot of energy into it and that’s great.

However I have one quibble.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed this except my mom is an artist and I have friends who are artists and through them I’ve become aware of how undervalued the work of artists is in our culture. If you talk to anyone who has ever sold art to the public, you will hear a story about people saying to them (or rather saying around them, it’s usually not said right to the artist’s face) something along the lines of, “I could do that myself” or “I could get that for $5 at Pier One.” (That’s a particular favorite of my mom’s, she’s a basketmaker, so she hears variations on that with some regularity.)

So I’m reading about the Penny Project to find out how it’s supposed to work, and how it’s supposed to work is that he found a penny on the ground and tried to think of how he could turn that into something more. He offered the penny for sale for $10 and found a taker — someone who supported his idea and wanted to be part of his project. So now he had $10 to buy food with.

He then put out a call for artists:

I’m looking for artists that would be willing to donate a bit of their time and talent for the penny experiment project. What I’m hoping to find is 100 different artists who will each create one postcard size piece of art that incorporates a number of their choosing (between 1 and 100) and a penny. In return, the artist will get (if desired) a bio on this website under the image of their artwork, a link to their own website and the knowledge that they helped out a lot of people in need during these difficult economic times.

The size of the art should be somewhere between 3 inches x 5 inches and 5 inches x 8 inches (a small to large postcard) on postcard type material incorporating both a real penny and the number that you choose. The style, color scheme, etc is completely up to you.

The art will be sold with 100% of the money going to purchase food for food banks.

So, the way to turn a penny into food is (…drumroll please…)



Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?

But whatever, artists are a generous bunch and he found many takers who were happy to participate in his project. I just thought it was kind of funny since if the plan was to have people he didn’t know give him free work that he could sell, what was the point of that first penny? It seems like that wasn’t really necessary at all. Though I guess every project needs a hook.

And, for my friend Ann, I will ask the question she always like to bring up, which is why is it always the artists who are asked to do their work for free? How come no one ever asks accountants or plumbers or auto mechanics to donate their work?

The next silent auction I go to I’d like to bid on tax preparation and oil changes and drain repair, with all proceeds going to the local food bank (or better yet, to local artists!).

I’ll be waiting for that one

5 Responses to “Free Art”

  1. dveej Says:

    Besides artists, they also are always asking free donations of baked goods from [usually] moms, or whoever does the cooking for a family — like for bake sales and stuff. There’s another group to notice the exploitation of…

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I just had to comment, since I’m an artist and my husbands an auto mechanic. =) While we’ve never held a benefit before, we have both donated our time and talents. So just so Ann knows it sometimes it does happen.

  3. Heidi Says:

    My husband and I own a small discount store and are constantly asked by complete strangers who don’t patronize our store to donate stuff. What rubs me the wrong way is that we are struggling (ask how retails stores are doing this year) and drive old (paid for) beaters. When they drive up in their new SUV/luxury sedans it really angers me that they expect me to donate to THEIR cause. I have my own cause that is important to me and if I want to donate $/time, it should be to something I care about. I have gotten to the point that I am a lot better at saying NO. I used to feel bad about it, but I don’t anymore.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    I know how you feel. Scrap Exchange gets asked for donations all the time — one thing that really helped us was to create a Donation Request Form that we ask people to fill out if they want a donation. One of the questions we ask is “What is your budget?” This makes it easy to weed out people who have way more money than we do asking us to give them things. It also helps us keep track of what we’re donating and to whom and to try to have it actually make sense rather than being random depending on what day it is or how we feel when someone walks in the door.

  5. Sarah Says:

    What bugs me about your story is the guy’s assumption that the artists will be grateful for the publicity. Like a link from the website is going to bring in so many sales, the donation is practically an investment.

    I do think that people with any kind of skill get asked to donate, not just artists. At the last auction we went to, my husband and I bought a home inspection (the timing was perfect). I see orthodontia at every auction I go to.

    I have been asked to donate tutoring or reading evaluations countless times. If I want to do it, I say yes. If not, then no, guilt-free. Not for auctions, but to just work for free because a kid needs help. I wish we could find a way to let a donor pay for the tutoring instead of asking the tutor to work for free.

    Then there’s the techie version: “can I make you dinner and you’ll fix my home network?”

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