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The Art of Exchange and Alternate Currencies

Everything we do involves an exchange of time, money and/or energy.

If we are happy with the rate of return, we call it a fair exchange.

If the rate seems to favor the other party, we may feel a deficit.

Often, what we feel depends on whether we are "up" or "down" compared to what we hoped would happen.

When we seek love, recognition, status, or goods feelings, numbers don't work. We then trade in "alternative currencies."

The alternative currency of confronting depression motivated Artist Joshua Coffy to perform daily acts of kindness.  He then created and gave away 333 paintings about these acts. He invested time, money and creative energy. In return, he felt better.

The Gift Prolific Gallery at Burning Man 2012 (Steven Raspa, Theresa Summer, Joshua Coffy, Darwin, and Lady Bee) - Photo by Karen Kuehn

Those gifts of art made others feel good. In turn, the recipients thanked Joshua, told him stories about their own life struggles, paid his kindness forward - and some paid him money for commissioned art.

Like Joshua, most of you have probably been asked to give art and to give often. You give to causes you believe in.  But you also have bills to pay and deserve respect for your gifts, talents and hard work.

Three Kinds of Exchange

Through your art business, you exchange art for feeling good about helping others and money to support yourself and your family or community. You have to weigh altruism with self-interest to make decisions about when to say "yes" and when to pass on charitable requests.

Only you can decide if the exchange is a deficit, fair or winning.

  • A deficit exchange leaves you feeling used and neglected because you gave more than you hoped to get back or what you gave was not valued;
  • A fair exchange satisfies you that your investment will yield a return for you and the other party through reasonable give and take;
  • A winning exchange engages money and alternative currencies in ways that are meaningful to all parties.

 Painter Marsha Clements

Painter Marsha Clements shared these examples to illustrate my points about exchange:

"Giving paintings for charitable contributions has sometimes brought me success and other times hurt my art business. Even though that makes me feel like saying 'no' to all that ask, I do still give to organizations that I really believe in.

A Deficit Exchange:

  • I have been in silent auctions where work was in the dark, sold for less than the cost of the frame, I had no idea who bought it, and didn't even get a thank-you from the group!

  • I have an artist friend who has donated to almost anyone that asked. A collector came to his gallery and told him he had several of his paintings, all from charity auctions for far less than they sold for in the gallery. Those donations actually hurt the artist.

A Fair Exchange:

  • I often give a $100 gift certificate.  When the buyer redeems it, I'm able to build a relationship with a possible collector, and I still make pretty good money on the painting. The buyer feels good for making a donation, and I feel great about my contribution.

A Winning Exchange:

  • I had a wonderful experience with a non-profit foundation that produces an outdoor musical drama, 'TEXAS,' in Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo, TX. Fifty of my paintings were included throughout the program and on the cover! Over 1000 people from all over the country attend that musical and many buy the program.

  • This experience was such a boost to my career:

    - The painting on the cover was auctioned at their big fundraiser and sold for several thousand dollars;

    - I had publicity in local magazines, the newspaper and TV;

    - I shared a percentage of sales in a gallery show;

    - I got some new customers and was a great fundraiser for them;

    - I painted on site at the show several nights during the season and sold paintings that I worked on.

  • Each season, our local theatre asks an artist to donate a painting. That painting is available in their lobby as a silent auction item for the entire season from September through May. The theatre puts a page of information and photographs of the artist and the work in the programs. People that attend the theatre enjoy art and many are buyers, so it is good advertising, and the paintings sell for at or more than gallery prices.

"I believe that artists should give--most of us are giving people--we feel we have a God given talent that we should share. But I also think artists should pick and choose and not give every time asked.

"Not only should it be worth your time because it goes to something you believe in, but it shouldn't hurt your career--it should help. Make an effort to attend the function if possible, network, and build some relationships. In turn you should receive the joy that comes from giving."

So you see, you can be generous and set some criteria for meaningful exchange.

When you and the requester are partners, instead of supplicant and supplier, and exchange something of value, the end results and bottom-line improve for everyone - you, the charity and the person who hands over the funds.

What's your best exchange story?

Please comment here and share your stories and post your comments on Facebook and Twitter.

In December I started a series of interviews and series articles about Making the Most of Giving Art to Fundraisers.  In January, I extended that theme into donations to help other artists by making a donation to CERF+. This month, I am continuing with articles about random acts of kindness that morph onto other benefits.

Read these related posts about giving:

All Those Deals ... But Art Heals
One Artist's "Trash" is Another Artist's Treasure
Artist Donations for Rescue Animals
Making the Most of Giving Art to Fundraisers
How to Respond to Requests for Art Donations

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