Wednesday, December 6, 2023
HomeFunding TacticsCreative Fundraising: Art Auctions

Creative Fundraising: Art Auctions

You’re an artist. That’s why you’re here. You’ve chosen to make your living through your craft and that means finding creative ways to ensure that you have the means to survive. One of the most obvious solutions might be right under your nose. Host an art auction.

Auctions are one of the best feathers in the caps of many nonprofit organizations. Silent auctions make appearances at gala dinners and preschool fundraisers alike. They draw on the basic human tendency to consume and compete, sometimes with surprisingly good results. So why not try your hand at an art auction? Not only is it a great way to raise a little money, you’ll also get your art out into the world.

So how do you go about this?

There are a few ways to approach an art auction. You can choose to do the entire thing online via your own social media channels or a third party site or you can plan a live event. Better yet, combine the two for maximum impact. Use the power of the internet to build momentum before bringing your auction to a non-virtual space.

When compiling your pieces for auction, try to keep your audience in mind. If you intend to engage art world insiders who might appreciate deeper, more esoteric work, by all means, go for it. But if you want to draw in the general public it’s a good idea to aim for pieces that are more universally understood. This is not to say you must paint only pictures of flowers and sell those, but that for those who may be intimidated by art, giving a little guidance goes a long way.

Consider whether you want to make this a collaborative event. If so, ask around within your circle to see who else might be interested in donating art for the occasion. Agree ahead of time how proceeds will be divided and consider putting it in writing.

You don’t need to host a gala event to hold an auction. Art auctions can take place in someone’s kitchen. Hans Ulrich Obrist, the renowned art curator, held an exhibition in his kitchen early in his career simply titled The Kitchen Show. Be creative and resourceful when it comes to finding the right place for your auction. Really all you need is some wall space and room to mingle.

Decide whether you wish to set a minimum price for each piece or simply let things take their own course. Setting a price, known as a reserve price, ensures that if pieces sell you make at least a minimally acceptable profit, but there is also inherent risk that auction attendees might be unwilling to pay up. Keep reserve prices modest.

As with every other aspect of your art business, it is important to get the word out about your upcoming art auction event. Hit your social media channels, local newspapers, online community calendars, and more. Create bright, colorful fliers to hang in places where there might be interest in an event such as this. Write up a press release. Do what it takes to get the buzz going.

Consider making a little investment in your event. By simply offering light food and drink (which you can advertise on your promotional materials) you will likely draw in more people than you would without. Make it a party, no one can resist some free food and a good time.

Another incentive to get people in the door is a raffle. Easily purchase a roll of tickets that everyone can take as they arrive. Check office supplies stores for something like this. Conjure up a prize and, late in the event, draw a ticket. Prizes could be anything from a free piece of art to a studio visit and picnic lunch. Use your strengths to make the door prize exciting and unique.

Decide whether you wish to have only a silent auction or if you prefer to include a live component as well. For a silent auction, you will need bidding sheets for every piece of art available. If there is a reserve price, indicate this in the top slot of the bidding sheet. The basic format for a bidding sheet is a two columned table. One side is for prices, the other side for names and contact information.

Timing of your auction can certainly be an important factor as well. Around the holiday season might be an ideal time for an event like this advertised as a holiday shopping opportunity. Other times of year, like during the height of summer, could be tricky as many people are traveling.

Hosting your own art auction can be a fun way to raise a little money, get your art into the world a little, and network. Your best weapon in an event like this is organization. Don’t overcomplicate things, know your plan, and advertise well. If the first auction goes well, wait a few months and give it another go. There is no limit to the possibilities.



  1. Great advise. Over the years, I have donated my works to several non-profit organizations for raffles. It’s been a “Win, Win” situation so far. The organizations get to raise some money, I get to show my work to a wide audiences. On 2 occasions, I have made follow up sales, since I work in series, they were easy sales.


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