Art for a cause doesn’t sell

Published Jun 14, 2018, 12:36 am IST
Updated Jun 14, 2018, 12:36 am IST
The event, which was organised at a star hotel was attended by many prominent people but failed to attract even a single buyer.
Artist Hari Srinivas with his work
 Artist Hari Srinivas with his work

Art and philanthropy have been connected for decades now. The benevolence of both the artist and patrons can be witnessed at charity art shows. In India, too, charity exhibitions are becoming increasingly popular for raising money for the underprivileged. But having a good turnout doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful fundraiser. Organisers of a recent charity exhibition in the city learnt this the hard way. Anita Hari of Sahaaya Foundation hoped to raise Rs 4 to Rs 5 lakh, by selling her husband Hari Srinivas’ paintings, for the treatment of baby Saharsa, who is suffering from cancer. The event, which was organised at a star hotel was attended by many prominent people but failed to attract even a single buyer. 

This isn’t the first time a charity art show has failed. “There are plenty of shows which have not done well,” says Atiya Amjad, founder-director, Daira Centre for Arts and Culture, adding, “Selling is a serious issue. We can only create awareness about the artist and his works. After that, it’s a gamble as buying is the discretion of the collector.”


When deciding to buy a piece of art for charity, it is common to choose a well-established organisation’s fundraiser over a smaller one. This is perhaps because the bigger non-profits are associated with better impact. 

“Art like any other finer aspects of life is very subjective. There are always buyers for different genres. Sometimes the right audience is missing or few in number. But that will certainly won’t bring down the appreciation of artworks value. For instance, the Hyderabad audience is more appreciative of figurative works. But, Delhi or Mumbai has a very evolved audience. And with the online presence of art the geographic location hardly matters,” says Atiya.


As well-known artist Fawad Tamkanat puts it, “If you have good contacts reputed names who are ready to help charitable organisations, you can do a successful charity art show and help the needy.”

Acclaimed artist Laxman Aelay feels the success of the show depends on the groundwork too. He says, “Charity is serious business. We should know how to channelise it. It’s up to the organisers to convince collectors regarding the cause. Publicity and communication should be there. We contribute our works to reputed organisations and I see no reason why paintings can’t be sold. Just inviting a handful of people won’t serve the purpose.” But smaller organisations may not always have the resources for marketing. 

And art collector and gallerist Prshant Lahoti, founder, Kalakriti Art Gallery adds, “If your business model is doing art shows for charity, at least the artist’s paintings are selling which otherwise wouldn’t. These exhibitions have too narrow an audience. Only in big auctions does it have an effect.”

Anita doesn’t agree. She says, “We have been doing charity exhibitions for long but this is the first time we could not sell even a single painting for the girl suffering from retinoblastoma cancer. Only the chief guest of the event IPS Akun Sabharwal managed to help the child with her monthly medicines.” Has there been a decline in the interest for acquiring paintings? 

“It depends on the quality and reputation of the organisers. Affordable art works well with charity events. Charity shows with credentials usually get the venues and patrons. But then everything depends on organisers,” says well-known artist Ramakanth Thumrugoti. When even a single painting doesn’t get sold, it also perhaps affects the market value of the artist. But curator Lakshmi Nambiar feels we should look at the brighter side of things. “There are numerous art exhibitions across the world where some or all of the proceeds from the sale of art go towards charity. Some artists even donate their artworks for such exhibitions. Such events also give less-established artists an opportunity to put their work before collectors,” she says. 

Atiya feels a different approach might work and adds, “There are organisations like Lepra India and others who have spiritedly organised art shows for the causes they represent. In fact, Lepra India’s art show happened last year. But the organiser is constantly working towards raising funds as the artists were flexible enough to keep their works in the Lepra charity stock.”