I received a mailing inviting me to contribute to a Black Tie Silent Auction event for the benefit of a private university that’s somewhat near where I live. I don’t know how my name made it to their mailing list since nobody in my family has any connection to this university, but I imagine that the organizers collected names of artists who exhibited during events at some of the local art centers.
Part of the letter of invitation really annoyed me.
As a means to entice me to participate, there was particular focus on the suggestion that the audience of this event will be filled with those who are considered to be prominent members of the community and the university would basically be doing me, the artist, a favor by granting me access to these future, enthusiastic customers.
Well….I’ve been around the block a few times and have a pretty good understanding of these events.
As someone who has been donating regularly to a variety of silent auctions for over 20 years, I have yet to see any of these auctions treated as anything other than an upscale yard sale…yes, even when it’s Black Tie.
At one event that I attended, I watched as some of the attendees (mostly parents of the children who attended the private school that was the beneficiary) bid on their desired items in increments of twenty-five cents. Honestly….twenty-five cents?!
A fellow jewelry designer, K., told me one of her silent auction stories. Benefitting a local hospital, this was a formal event with many local celebrities in attendance. K. donated one of her necklaces that usually retail for $600 and above. She was in attendance and was approached by a very disappointed TV personality who had been bidding on the necklace but lost the bid. She had really wanted the necklace and wanted to know if there was another one available. K. had a similar necklace in her studio and gave it to TV lady.
At this point in the story, I looked at K. and said, “Wait a minute…you gave it to her? Why would you give it to her?!” I mean…it’s public knowledge that TV lady makes more than half a million dollars a year, which is around half a million dollars more than K. makes. K. thought that it would be a good business move; maybe she would cultivate a great, new customer.
TV lady never bought anything from K. and never referred anyone to her. I heard this story several years ago and still, every time I see TV lady in the local media, all I can hear is blah, blah, blah coming out of her mouth because I’m thinking, “Shame on you for not paying for that necklace.”
I’m sure that they exist, but I do not know one artist/craftsperson who ended up getting work because of their involvement in a silent auction.
Is that a problem?....no, not in my opinion. We are all members of a community that thrives when we are active participants. I think it’s important to step up and help those who are helping others. Promises of introducing me to the elite who will advance my business fall on deaf ears.
Once a piece is donated, it’s out of my hands and I choose to attach no expectation to it other than the hope that the money raised will do good deeds.