Saturday, September 24, 2011

To Donate or Not to Donate

There's been a spirited on-line discussion (some might call it a heated debate) about a call for donations which was presented via Friday's SAQA e-bulletin.  Karey Bresenhan, a former SAQA board member, asked SAQA members to consider donating a small art quilt that could be sold through the shop of the soon-to-be-opened Texas Quilt Museum.  Prices for the pieces would be between $100 and $200.

It seemed like an innocuous request to me, but really got under the skin of others.  As I understand it, there were two reasons why:

1) The pricing was too low.  Objectors felt such pricing was devaluing art quilts in general and would limit public perception of the value of our art.

My rebuttal: For many of us, at this point in our artistic careers, a $100-$200 price tag is appropriate for a small piece of our work and, therefore, doesn't devalue it. There are certainly some artists who are much farther along in their careers and who likely don't have a great deal of artwork that fits into that pricing category. I accept and respect their decision not to contribute something with a prescribed price.  However, there are also other artists who want to support Karey and will donate something, even if they could sell it for a higher price elsewhere.   That's okay; that's their choice.  I don't think anyone should feel guilty or be chastised for donating if they deem it appropriate to do so nor if they choose not to.   How and where an artist chooses to sell, donate, or present their artwork is a personal decision to be made in accordance to their personal goals and values.

As for pricing, I believe that Karey knows better than most what the market can bear in her area for small art quilts. (For clarity, let me note that I think something up to 12" x 12" can be considered small.)  Pricing varies throughout the country; what may sell for $100 in Texas may sell for more in New York and less in Louisiana.  That's simply economics.  The point of a museum shop is to generate income.  Therefore, stock that doesn't sell, either because it doesn't appeal to buyers or is priced too high, will be of no use.  Remember, these are mostly impulse purchases that strike an emotional chord with the purchaser.  Karey's goal, then, is to offer pieces that are going to relatively fly off the shelves because they can't be resisted; attractive artwork at a fair price point will hopefully do just that.  As pieces sell, the market will likely tolerate higher prices; Karey just doesn't believe we're there yet.  I'm going to trust her judgement on this one.

2) SAQA's e-bulletin should not have been the delivery mechanism for the request.  Objectors felt is wasn't appropriate for SAQA to be part of an effort to support or endorese what appears to be a museum more focused on exhibiting traditional works.  In addition, many felt SAQA should have policies in place that will dictate what kind of material can be sent to the membership.

My rebuttal:  I don't disagree that a Board discussion about this situation would be helpful.  I imagine no one thought twice about presenting the membership with an opportunity from Karey Bresenhan to sell via a museum shop.  However, I can see the validity in concerns that the lack of guidelines could lead to a slippery slope.  A future discussion should outline basic principles at to who can "speak" through SAQA bulletins and for what purpose.  However, I believe a thoughtful application of the rules should be employed, as opposed to a rigid one.

And here's an additional point I don't think anyone has mentioned.  If I'd read my emails sooner, I would have liked to bring it up in the public discussion, but I feel it's too late to chime in now.

The mission of SAQA is as follows:
Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc. (SAQA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the art quilt through education, exhibitions, professional development and documentation.

I think placing the request in one of SAQA's e-bulletins is in accordance with that mission.   Offering artwork through the museum shop immediately places a value on them, something that a more traditionally-minded audience might not otherwise do.  It seems to me that the museum's target audience at the moment is one more inclined to traditional quilts.  Well, we certainly can't expect the museum to host an art quilt exhibition just yet.... nor can we expect these folks to visit an art quilt gallery show, either.  But offering items through the gift shop is, I think, a wonderful way to introduce them to art quilts.  Here's an audience we might not otherwise reach because they aren't currently attracted to our art form.  They'll discover there's more "out there" by seeing our pieces displayed.  Perhaps a shopper will be captivated by a piece, buy it, and be intrigued enough to look up the artist on the internet.  Look, we've started to educate a consumer and that's very much in line with SAQA's mission.  This may be a novel approach to raising awareness, but I don't think it's any less valid than other ways.  With that in mind I think the SAQA e-bulletin was an appropriate vehicle for this message.

Now, as folks become more familiar with and more informed about the diversity in our art form, I hope shop pricing can go up.   Hopefully Karey can broaden her audience and visitor pool enough to support  art quilt exhibitions.  In the mean time, I hope to create something worthy of a museum gift shop that's compelling enough to be purchased.  At this stage of my game, I think this is worthwhile.  Besides, I never would have gotten started with art quilting without the Journal Quilt Project; I can try to give something back.  And who knows where a patron may come from?  

--- Please feel free to leave rebuttals and comments.  A thoughtful dialogue is always a good idea!


Michigoose said...

I agree...I do think that perhaps it has engendered a useful conversation as to whether or not solicitations for donations other than for the SAQA auction should be solicited through formal SAQA publications. Karey posted it first on Quiltart and then it appeared in a note from Martha would be worthwhile to have some sort of policy and certainly this was an innocent intro to such thought.

The discussion, however, has been a little too personal...but then, such comments seem to engender such. I think on of the more interesting comments has been about the size...surely Karey's requests did not mean that a 36" x 24" piece by nationally known art quilters were going to be sold for $100-$200...they could send in other pieces which would fall into that price range. Me? I intend to send her some pieces...and it probably would be in the 36" x 24" range. :) Lisa

my croft said...

There are few people in the galaxy who have done as much to raise awareness of quilting, art quilting, and fiber arts as has Karey Bresenhan.

Personally, I think we owe her. How many of us started art quilting -- and showing our work --because of the Journal Quilt project? Her acumen, enthusiasm, industriousness, and decades-long dedication should be sufficient to qualify her to make a modest request for VOLUNTEERS in any fiber-arts forum.

Shame on these people who are grousing.

Michigoose said...

My Croft, Lisa Call's original comment was not a grouse, but a question as to whether or not in an official publication that a call for donations to ONE museum by ONE person should be put out. That since SAQA,and this was coming from a SAQA publication as it had the letter head on it, not a direct call from Karey to the members herself, is a professional organization, should it be calling for donations in this way? Lisa's point is one that showed that there probably should have some sort of policy on that aspect. Certainly, I would never have seen the American Association of Museums issue such a call for donations.

No one is saying that we should not give Karey donations to be sold in her museum. No one is saying it isn't a good cause, nor that you shouldn't give. Lisa's initial question was about that.

Lisa's second concern was about under-valuing art quilts because the price point was only $100-200. However, as someone pointed out, artists could send her pieces which would fall into that category. In some noted art quilters cases, it might be something the size of a post my case it would be much larger than that because I have no standing in the art quilt arena.

The original question posed by Lisa Call has been taken to being one of "grousing" and arguing about Karey....this is not where it should have gone. No one questions the validity of Karey's request nor her sizeable contribution to the quilting world.

my croft said...

I am no longer a member of SAQA and I try to stay out of these discussions because, as seems obvious, the issues that persuaded me to leave still tend to burn hot and fast, but I will say that it is sophistic reasoning to seek to restrict the earned privileges of exceptionalism for one person (Bresenhan) while simultaneously reserving them for yourself (Call).

Kristin L said...

I'm with you on this Vivien.

I do not see asking if there's a need for a policy "grousing." The SAQA board SHOULD discuss SAQA's stance on solicitation of work on their site. Maybe their answer will be that any member can solicit for any cause, or maybe it will be that no one can use the site/group to ask for work, or perhaps there's a position in the middle. I think actually having a policy will help members understand when a request is appropriate or not.

As for valuing art, I was originally dismayed when I read the request for donations of artwork to be sold in the $100 to $200 range. I too worry that much fiber art is devalued and that we, as artists, are asked to give away that which should be supporting us. However, upon reflection, I've come to the decision that there are a lot of us who do have work that, because of it's size, materials, or cache of the maker, ARE worth $100 to $200 and if the artist is comfortable donating it for exposure or as a way of "tithing" or saying thanks to one who has been a staunch supporter of the genre, then YES -- donate!