I will preface that this was my experience and an opinion of the situation I was in. Not all 501(c)3 groups are this way nor does this represent any current group but a small window of what I went through.
I grew up in a very small community from the age of 5. I went through the local school district, graduated and proceeded onto college. Even with my background in blacksmithing I focused on “media arts” and advertising as a degree. College mostly taught you how to approach a client and keep things trendy and commercially appealing. I continued to work in the community after graduation and through my father had heard that an art gallery was in the talks and looking for members. Meetings were held at the local library and about 8-10 other local artists attended. Most were very eager to get a gallery in the “podunk town” known as Bailey. As the meetings went on they continued to brain storm of locations, names and had a rehearsed promise that your efforts to contributing to the Artist Co-op are tax deductible…man did they have me hook, line and sinker.
The next year I forged a small grip rail, hooks for the flowers to hang from, fabricated brackets for the signs, created a branding packaged that included: a logo, templates for postcards, designed ads for the local paper. Using a website template that I had an account for, I even went as far as creating a full blown portfolio gallery of every member complete with: PDF applications, a working calendar that was updated live, links to social media –that I had set up– the whole sha-bang. I was putting every skill I had into this gallery all fueled with the impression that my efforts would be tax deductible…au contraire…
I put together an itemized list of everything I did; which came to a total of $4,605.00 I was also quite proud of how I contributed to a group of “fellow artists” that not only trusted but considered friends. I turned in my documents, which included a note from the organization that ran the gallery. There laid the line amongst the appreciation of my efforts from the Council:
“…While we can acknowledge the receipt of your donations, we cannot value the services for tax reasons…”
Artists that are part of a 501(c)3 cannot claim the services they do but only any physical materials used; a max of $600, which ever is less. I was furious and rightfully so. All those hours and creating the advertising, the constant meetings, the ironwork and not once did anyone mention that my efforts would only benefit them, the gallery. I expected more from “friends.”
I was naive about my stance and thought I should hang in there for one more year. Why? I have no idea…Maybe I can make a better impression than before. Maybe there was an exception…but how? I already donated $4k worth of time and services and they simply took it with absolutely no warning of what I was going to get, not a damn thing. Speaks so poorly of the characters that were part of the situation and knew what was going to happen.
The next year I evaluated how my art was being sold. I noticed that the demographic attending a gallery is important. Looking at other artists I observed that most items were under $100. Typically my iron work started at $250. Then as inventory would get shuffled around the floor there was a pattern where my art was being placed next to a, in my opinion, mediocre and more affordable piece. I watched as customers would come in and pick up my items. A little jerk in the shoulder and squint in the face demonstrated my prices where high for this demographic. Although soon after, they would purchase the item that was next to mine. I couldn’t believe it. My art not only helped the over all presentation but also helped sell other peoples “art!”
**I say “art” because my honest opinion that most of the artists there were hobbyist at best and lacked basic principles and technique. Commonly they were retired and have “always wanted to “___fill in the blank____” for a living. I am not saying this out of spite but, again in my opinion, the quality of what was in there was nothing to write home about. One piece in particular was and in most circumstances birds flying upside down would be an interesting discussion, and an opportunity for a symbolic metaphor, ran short and in my opinion was embarrassing. It was a startup 501(c)3 and they didn’t deny anyone who applied.
A year went by and I eventually bowed out. I kept the website up to date and would get paid a small fee when they needed it worked on, about 3 times in one year. I even trained a member to update the “Events Page” to help keep the fees down. Trying to keep the connections with a few artists, and as time went on, I wanted nothing to do with them. Three months before the website expired I contacted the group and was honest about not renewing it, and I did not have the intent of giving them the website for the misleading promises we had heard in the beginning. The offer stood as they could buy it, make payments or what ever worked best. They passed on the offer. A week after the hosting expired I noticed that they had the website copied and hosted on another server. I know…wow…in my opinion how shallow. I also found out that other website host providers have no intention to make light of claims of plagiarism, theft and/or content abuse as I had contacted them. I was in shit creek with no paddle and felt like everything was against me. It seemed as if these people were so eager to get help from me but so quick to steal whatever I contributed. “Oh another donation….*yoink*”
A year later I was on the board of another –totally unrelated– 501(c)3 and in a similar situation of where I thought I knew the people involved and trusted them. Only to be let down with condescending remarks and constantly getting put in situations to be taken advantage of. Again I simply resigned. I will mention in all these events I kept my cool. Not once did I lash out, call names, belittle or treat anyone involved how they treated me.Looking back, this was one of those great “life” experiences where not only was I lied to but ostracized, decisions made without my participation and eventually betrayed by people who I considered friends. Unfortunately this changed my opinion of the community I grew up in and also demonstrated the type of egos that are in involved in these 501(c)3 organizations.
Over the past year, and as a result, I have had all the confidence to put my energy into the promotion of myself, an artisan blacksmith. March 2013 I had to upgrade my bandwidth plan to keep up with the traffic going to it. Over three social media sites I have over 10k people who follow, interact and support me in ways from: purchasing my art, shirts/stickers and giving real feedback both good and bad. The connections are so much more genuine than anything I have ever experienced and more fulfilling than my local community could ever offer.
In respect to any company or groups I have left out names of the people, and the 501(c)3s that were involved as there are more than one. I hope that this was worth reading to other artists looking at joining such a group and to be careful. If you don’t do you research, if you don’t ask the right questions, you can be taken advantage. Goes without saying that is a good rule to have for anything you do.