Saturday, December 24, 2011

Profitable Non-Profit Marketplaces

Non-Profit entities are really profit-making marketplaces complete with curators who vet art for the consumer and sell art on behalf of artists.

The other night, I watched the documentary film called The Woodmans on PBS’s Independent Lens. It was an engaging piece and I learned a great deal about the photographic art of Francesca Woodman. After the film, I looked on to find her work and sure enough, there’s a new book of her work, recently published in November 2011. I suppose other viewers were pointing away and clicking like me. The new book is $50.

Then my mind shifted to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts; an easy shift since it sits outside my window. I wondered about the recent ballet production, Tom Sawyer. I know the authors must be on a hunt to sell the show. With that I remembered that the KCPA is a non-profit bit of bricks and mortar.

There are theaters with this mixed business model too. Theaters, which are brick and mortar non-profits that present works by companies seeking profit. We have gallery-like organizations like Charlotte Street, here in Kansas City; non-profit, grant coordinating, galleried spaces existing under the tax-sheltered warmth of the 501(c)3 business organization.

In the midst of all of this complexity, I think about the artists and how they navigate the landscape to sell their art, sustain their art and gain exposure. I think about the non-profited “art administrators”, those who vet, judge and select. Few of the judges are serious collectors, if collectors at all. What’s fine art? What’s fine enough to be placed in the non-profit market stalls? Who gets to judge? How do the ticket purchasers, the art collectors, the music buyers fit into this equation? Do the customers, even the donors, understand the ins and outs or even care?

Donors who shelter their assets in art-related non-profits deserve our thanks. I suppose all of this works out fine in the end. Those who purchase art deserve to ponder the fact that art is often being curated, selected, and presented by non-profit art administrators. Their motivations differ from the gallery owners who sell and the serious collectors who collect. This complex landscape of the art business (profit or not) world is a subject not in the curricula of most art schools.

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