TAG – The Art of Giving {Charity Art Sale}

I’m thankful for being apart of a thriving ecosystem built in Grand Forks, ND called, “TAG – The Art of Giving” which is closing the gap between artists, collectors, and local charities. The fourth annual art exhibition, held on November 20, 2015, celebrated record art sales.

TAG – The Art of Giving

Building a fine-art photography business has nothing to do with the art. It has everything to do with ecosystem.

What if I told you over $110,000 of art sold in four hours?

In an office building. In Grand Forks, North Dakota.

30% proceeds went charity, while the rest supported artists (gallery commission is usually 50%). Proceeds from this year’s event benefited Altru’s Renal Dialysis Unit to assist patients with kidney disorders.

Talk about a MAJOR SUCCESS!!! Crazy, eh? Read how it all began here. Like them on Facebook.

This blog post will share my personal experiences and perspective on how thankful I am of this event both personally and professionally as an emerging fine-art photographer.

It’s a long-ish, but hang with me.

Helga sold to happy clients to hang in a man-cave (above). Dan Jones and TAG Co-Coordinator Jason Restemayer enjoy Andrea Qual’s painting (below).

A Rough Gig

Let’s back up a bit.

Art can be worth nothing, yet it can be worth millions.

Great artists are not often appreciated until their death. Van Gogh, for example, produced 900 paintings, but sold only one before his suicide. Perhaps his paintings were “too dark” for the bright Impressionist era he lived in.

Take “El Greco.” His work didn’t belong to a conventional style most appreciated. His critics called him a “mad painter,” identifying his style as a sign of insanity. It took a 20th century ecosystem to recognize and appreciate his work.

Finally, one of my favorites, Johannes Vermeer. The Dutch painter left his family in debt after he died even though today he is celebrated as one of the best painters of the Dutch Golden Age. And if you haven’t seen the documentary flick “Tim’s Vermeer,” Netflix it. His work is priceless now.

What do these three artists share in common? Their work couldn’t survive in their ecosystem. Yet it thrives today (too late).

On a personal note, I’ve had two solo shows and have been apart of three group show this year.

Hardly anything sold.

I was beginning to wonder if my work perhaps wasn’t fit for the right ecosystem, even though I had been validated by people who knew their stuff. This is darn hard as an artist when you pour your heart and energy into making the work look it’s best, front the costs to mount an exhibition, pile up miles and hours in the car, answering to gallerists requests… then crickets.

It’s almost like the whole gallery system is broken. Or at least the odds are stacked up against the artist.

Don’t get me wrong, the traditional gallery system is wonderful for connecting collectors to artists. They have the ability to serve as launching points for early-career artists, bolstering a resume as a stepping stone to receiving grants, for example. They create a stage for artists to command the most for their work while allowing artists to focus on what they do best: which is create art.

The rub? That 50% gallery commission. To make it, artists often have to double their pricing to make the same. Welcome to the Gap of Confusion:wpid-GO-1-2015-11-23-22-21.jpg

The Gap of Confusion?

Basically, it’s the veneer of air between the artist and the audience, “collectors.” I can’t define it. Gallerists try.

The art world is one tricky thing. What might work one day may not the next. And vice versa. Then again, a map of smooth roads with no detours, makes for a pretty boring journey.

The one thing I have learned: art buying is an emotional experience.

My goal this year was to get my work into the hands of ten collectors. Just ten. Sounds simple, right?


Before TAG, I hadn’t hit my goal. I was bummed. From my experience running two other buisnesses, those first ten clients are often the hardest to get. Do good work, and the next 300 should come from them.

I needed that final push to generate momentum to reach my critical mass minimum.

A Golden Lynchpin

How do you bridge that gap between artists and buyers in complex art market? How do you get people lined up to buy art? The answers lie in understanding the ecosystem at hand.

A lynchpin holds a wagon wheel on the axle. Without it, the wagon doesn’t move.

What’s the golden lynchpin I’m learning? Social networks.

Even more important: PLAY THE LONG GAME!

Social networks form an ecosystem in which it’s created and grows acts like fertile soil… allows things to grow. Without basic nutrients, like nitrogen, little can grow. Artists can’t live in a vacuum and need the social networks to thrive otherwise good work can grow stale. Photography is a very important currency.

Three components make TAG work:

  • First come, first served. The one-night only event creates demand for art. Collectors plan in advance for this event.
  • Meet the artists. Being able to connect artists to their work offers unique, fun experience for collectors. New faces on the scene are recognized and welcome.
  • Go Charity! Wine & cheese loosens purse strings. Charitable causes opens them. People like helping a good cause.

The ecosystem that is created that sustains artists at the same time please buyers and benefit a philanthropic organization that, well, JUST WORKS! The perfect recipe blends consumer demand, creates an emotional experience, while staying true to helping others in the community.

That’s what makes TAG – The Art of Giving event special. The event supports artists while giving back to the community.

Win. Win. Win.

That’s something to celebrate!

Gregg Opp and his creative bartending gang offer service with a smile!

Sally Miskavige became a huge cheerleader for my work! The energy and passion she shared into making this event a success really shows!

I love meeting new artists during receptions. Each year a student is chosen to participate and Andrea Qual (pictured left) with Kelly Thompson illustrate how great work is often rewarded with a red dot. Katie Brown Bergner and her husband (behind-the-scenes), Brian, worked tireless to ensure sales went smooth and customers left happy.

The legendary Dan Jones and his wife, Julia, two of the sweetest supporters & creators of art I could imagine.

I met Gregory Vettle recently at the North Dakota Museum of Art. He’s a metal sculpture and this year he wanted to make sure his work would hold a beer, you know, like functional art. As we were talking, an official told him not to put his beer on the artwork. I chimed in and stated, “He’s the artist and that’s what he wanted!” We all share big smiles!

Fellow wildlife artist, Britt Dalice, enjoyed a sold-out show. She created the colorful moose portrait above. She’s also a new collector and I was honored one of my prints served as an early birthday present to herself! Way cool!

Jessie Thorson’s paintings sold very well, too! She loves her new Casanova!

I greatly appreciate Annie Gorder and her husband for their support as new collectors!

Special thanks to these fine gentlemen and friends, Jason Restemayer (left) and Kelly Thompson (right) for their support and encouragement. They are both marvelous lynchpins bridging the gap of confusion in the art world for me.

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