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Artists Take Action: How One Maker Started a Movement

July 9, 2018

Mother and artist Lisa Solomon discusses Artists Take Action, her nonprofit project that auctions off donated artwork to raise money for charities across the world.

A little each day goes a long way. This is what Lisa Solomon had in mind when she started Artists Take Action, a nonprofit project aimed at raising money for a variety of charities by auctioning off work donated from a diverse group of artists and makers. The project was conceptualized post-election day in 2016—a time when many felt unsure about the financial future of nonprofits whose budgets rely on funds from the local and national government. Utilizing Instagram and Tumblr as the main outlets for auctions, Artists Take Action has since raised over $28,000 for 20 different charities.

Learn more about Artists Take Action and how you can get involved below.

interiors+sources: How did the Artists Take Action project begin?

Lisa Solomon: The [Artists Take Action] project was born on November 9, 2016 the day after the election. I am a mom and a working artist. That morning I woke up and I didn’t want to feel helpless. I wanted to contribute to non-profits and organizations that were going to need support, now more than ever, in the upcoming months. But I also figured I’m just one person, and while I’m incredibly fortunate, I don’t have the kind of funds to make big donations to causes I believe in. I wanted to do something that was sustainable and long term. Not just a single $100 contribution to a single cause. I wondered if other artist friends felt similarly. I sent out a couple of texts and quickly found out that if I organized something people were willing to participate. As artists and makers, sometimes we are cash poor, but we all have what we make to donate.

I had seen some really fun fabric de-stash and art sales on Instagram. I also knew from experience that auctions tend to build a frenzy…so I decided to use Instagram as the platform, and run auctions for a short period of time (we started with longer auctions and still do longer ones when we are partnering with another business, but these days they run for about 34 hours). Looking at profile pages, it’s clear that nine images make a really nice grid. I also thought that curating nine artists on a monthly basis would be something I could manage. I thought that starting the bidding low ($5) would also give people an amazing chance to score something beautiful and contribute to a cause. I figured even the bare minimum of a $45 donation to a charity would be stronger than a $5-10 donation from just me. Thankfully, we’ve always raised much more money than $45 a month!

i+s: What is the purpose of Artists Take Action?

LS: I feel like the purpose of Artists Take Action is to support amazing non-profits and organizations that are fighting for the good of people and our planet. I have a list of 60+ organizations I’m interested in supporting – and the list is always growing. I know that I am personally very concerned about multiple issues. The news daily is fodder for me to seek out new charities that are doing work that seems so essential right now.

I always check the charity ratings of any organization we support—this is very, very important to me. I also am always looking for smaller organizations—we have supported some big ones (like the ACLU and Meals on Wheels), but I like the idea of a place where $500 can really make a difference. Occasionally, I get an email or message from an executive director of an organization who is shocked and tells me exactly how the money will be used, and that makes me so incredibly happy. The one caveat is that I try to find organizations that have mostly a national or international reach. Although there are times when I’ve broken this rule, I feel that this approach offers more to our global base of donors and bidders.

It’s a platform for artists to give back. All nine artists vote and help choose the charity we support monthly. It gives everyone involved a chance to feel like they are doing a little bit of good. I think in this moment in time we need to feel more connected, to find ways to move things in directions we can support, to uplift, and be generous. I hope that ATA does a little bit of that.

i+s: How has the response been? (Also, how much has the Artists Take Action auction raised?)

LS: Honestly the response has been more amazing than I could have hoped. In 19 months we’ve raised $28,806 for 20 charities. We also have generated some amazing partnerships – we’ve done two auctions with authors, artists, and illustrators from Chronicle Books. We’ve been approached by artists all over the country – actually even the world – who have wanted to donate. I feel like we are small, but we have a staunch group of supporters that bid every month. Many of the artists we have worked with come back to bid on other artist’s work. It’s a really great community, and I’m so happy that it keeps growing. I didn’t know how sustainable the idea was, but I’m in it for as long as it keeps working!

i+s: What challenges you most during the process of curating makers for a cause like Artists Take Action?

LS: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that the artists and the things we have up for auction really represent a wide array. I’m usually pretty quiet about this, but it’s very important that the media is diverse—so not just paintings, or jewelry or ceramics (although I am thinking of doing a themed auction pretty soon), – but that the makers are also diverse in gender, ethnicity, locale, etc. You could say my goal is to be as intersectional as I can be. 

I also really try to make sure that there is some visual consistency or at least conversation between the artists/objects. I want the grid of nine to ultimately look really great together. Sometimes – and this is not really on purpose – there is a color or thematic consistency and I love that. It can be a challenge to make that happen, but when it does I’m pretty pleased. 

i+s: Who has helped you realize your dreams?

LS: All of the people who have participated in [Artists Take Action]. 

i+s: What are your plans for the next stages of Artists Take Action?

LS: This is totally a by-the-seat-of-my-pants operation. I sometimes plan two to three months out, but that is about as far as I can get. My plans are really simple. I want to do it for as long as I can, as long as there seems to be a need with over 60 organizations on my potential donation list, I don’t see that aspect running out], and as long as people are willing to donate and bid. There is no grand plan, unless some guardian angel wants to come help me think about bigger and more far-reaching next stages. 

i+s: How can people support Artists Take Action?

LS: Check us out. Follow us. Bid on works. Ask to donate a work. Tell us about a charity that you know of that is doing good work. Spread the word. The more eyeballs on our auctions, the more bids, the more money, the more we can help. 

i+s: How can designers and artists become involved in Artists Take Action?

LS: The easiest way to get involved is to help promote our auctions, come bid on something you like, or suggest items that are up for auction to friends and family you think might be interested. If you are willing and able to donate something, thank you. I’m delighted, but this is definitely not a completely open process.

It takes time and effort for me to curate these auctions. One of the reason I chose nine artists was that I felt like I could stretch out my community contacts, slowly making the rounds to every artist and maker I know, asking if they were willing/able to participate. As the months have gone on, and as people have asked to participate, I keep folding in more and new [to me] artists and makers. 

If someone wants to participate by donating a work/object I ask that they check out our FAQ page as there’s a lot of info there about why we do things the way we do and what we are looking for in terms of artists. I’m convinced the auction works because I trust that the artists/makers will send out their work to winning bidders. I am just the middle person who checks to make sure that people have donated the right amount to charities. It’s crucial that artists follow through or the whole thing falls apart. I think also the diversity of work and makers is also a big factor to our success. 

If they are still interested after checking out the FAQ and our Instagram, just direct message me on Instagram or send me an email and we’ll chat. 

Interested in more like Artists Take Action? Check out the rise of Instagram auctions

About the Author

Adrian Schley | Associate Editor

Adrian Schley is an Associate Editor for i+s, where she has been covering the commercial interior design industry since 2018. Her work can also be found in BUILDINGS and Meetings Today. 

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