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‘Tis the Season for Giving

…but don’t give away your art. Some say giving away your art diminishes its value. Some say you are not professional if you don’t get paid for your work (“accountants wouldn’t do it“). Others say giving away your art for free is letting someone take advantage of you. And still others think that artists working for free is why other artists are underpaid and have to have second jobs.

While many of these arguments have some validity, I believe that there are times when giving away art is in fact a worthy, generous thing (and there are many others who think so as well). Boston is home to a nonprofit whose very business is to ask artists to give away their art. This organization, The Art Connection, has as its mission “to enrich and empower underserved communities by expanding access to original works of visual art.” The organization connects visual artists with local social service organizations who do not have funds to acquire original art so that this art can be placed in settings where others can experience the transformative power of the pieces. Since its inception in 1995, this unique gifting program has supported over 360 agencies in their personal selection of over 6,600 artworks by almost 400 artists.

There are currently 10 other cities (including Johannesburg, South Africa) where there are programs modeled on this successful venture. There are so many places interested in establishing programs modeled on The Art Connection that a fund, the Fay Slover Fund at the Boston Foundation, has been established to provide funding to seed such efforts.

The reward for community organizations is original artwork on otherwise empty wall space. The reward to clients of the service agencies is inspiring — and in some cases, self-selected — works of original art for enjoyment on a daily basis. And the reward for the artist is the excitement of knowing that an artwork has been selected by representatives of the host organization (which is how the art is chosen), seeing the art installed, and finally knowing that it is being viewed my many who do not have many chances to see original art.

Full disclosure, I have a family member who participates in the program I am describing. My husband, Henry Olds, is a photographer who is thrilled to have had 36 of his pieces placed in community-based organizations over the last three and a half years. His art is in such diverse locations as Roxbury Community CollegeDorchester House Multi-Service Center, and Central Boston Elder Services, Inc.

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