SMFA students discuss artists’ share of proceeds at annual Art Sale

Visitors catch a preview of the annual SMFA Art Sale at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts on Nov. 9, 2017. Courtesy Anna Miller / Tufts University

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts hosted its annual Art Sale this November. The sale featured over 600 works from current SMFA students, alumni, faculty, staff and other affiliated artists, according to the director of the sale, Monica Manoski.

Manoski, who also serves as the development officer at the SMFA, noted that the sale offers far more than a place for artists to display and sell their art.

“Each year, the sale raises around $400,000 for financial aid and other creative resources at the [SMFA],” Manoski told the Daily in an email. “Artists [are encouraged] to give back through the sale of their art, [and] the [SMFA] is helping foster a culture of philanthropy.”

But for some artists at the SMFA, the art sale has been off-putting, as they are worried that they are not receiving fair compensation for their work. The SMFA currently takes half of the profits from each sale to fund programming at the school, according to first-year bachelor’s of fine arts (BFA) student Sophia Feinberg. As a result, Feinberg chose not to sell any works through the Art Sale.

“I personally don’t think it serves as the best way to split profits, but I don’t feel like there’s much that can be done about that. Ultimately, the profits taken by the school will be used to provide students with materials,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg said that she is not alone in her opinions, and that while the 50–50 split is typical of art institutions, artists — including many of her peers — do not believe they are being properly compensated.

“My peers in the art community also find the 50–50 split sort of ridiculous. We would appreciate getting a higher percentage of the profits because we are the ones who create the artwork,” Feinberg said.

However, Lily Pisano, a third-year BFA and BA/BS combined degree student who sold a $600 sculpture she made in her welding class that depicted a head of hair made out of bent steel stock, noted her satisfaction.

“The piece I sold was not [enough] of a financial burden … for me to be dissatisfied about the idea of SMFA taking 50 percent of the profits. It was a learning piece, and even though I really like it, I am more than happy at this stage in my career to promote my art in a public platform and potentially share that work with someone else who will cherish it in their home or other institution,” Pisano told the Daily in an email.

As a student who receives financial aid, Pisano appreciates being able to support the cause. Thousands of works of art are sold at the sale, raising a large amount of money for financial aid and other priorities for the SMFA.

“I received various scholarships and other monetary aids from Tufts [and] SMFA when I got into the school, so from a student of this … perspective, it is nice to give back and contribute to something I am grateful for in my own college career,” Pisano said. “It is a good way to support education and the arts, as well as future generations of people who have the capability to make real change in the art world, and in society, by extension.”

Even though Pisano does not take issue with the 50–50 split, she also said that she intentionally chose to offer a piece of art that was less costly to make into the sale.

“With the piece that I submitted, I definitely feel that I was compensated enough for my efforts. However, with other pieces I have created, I am not sure I would feel the same,” Pisano said.

When asked how the 50–50 split affects artists’ willingness to submit artwork, both Feinberg and Pisano agreed that artists would be more likely to participate in the sale if they received a higher percentage of the profits.

“We put so much effort into this artwork and only get half of what it’s worth, which is very frustrating,” Feinberg said. “Artists also feel personally connected to their artwork, so not receiving most of the profits is disappointing.”

Pisano concurred, noting that revisions to the compensation system must be made thoughtfully.

“I believe that [the artists’ percentage from sales] would incentivize more students to submit. However, according to my other beliefs, I think that the event needs to be approached in a certain way to account for that. I do not completely believe that changing the percentages of the profit would change the type of work [or] artist registry of the sale,” Pisano said.

Manoski noted that in addition to monetary compensation, artists also receive intangible benefits from public exposure at the sale.

“We encourage all students to participate. The Art Sale is a unique opportunity to have their work seen by hundreds of people. Even if their work doesn’t sell, having their art on view to the public is beneficial,” Manoski said.

Student pieces are also shown alongside other works from world-renowned artists — such as Sol LeWitt and Louise Nevelson — at the Art Sale, according to Manoski.

Manoski also said that the Art Sale has an educational and professional development dimension for SMFA students.

“By participating in the Sale, SMFA students learn professional development — how to talk about their work, how to price it and how to get it ready to be sold.” Manoski said. “Many artists have developed a strong career following by participating in the Sale.”

Ryen Delaney contributed reporting to this article.