How to Make a Gift of Art

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Preserving Cultural and Building Your Legacy: Tea With Myrtis

By Joan Cox

You’ve amassed a collection worth sharing and you would like this process to continue after you’re gone. How to make sure the precious works of art you own are put to good use in the future?

On yet another rainy cold Sunday in May, a group of about twenty-five art lovers, collectors and artists gathered for a Tea with Myrtis Art Salon. The gallery assembled an expert panel (and one long beautiful table filled with flowers, savories, sweets, and tea) for an intimate and informative talk on the topic of preserving, documenting and donating your art collection to an institution.

Art Salon Panelists Charles Bethea, Chief Curator at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Larry Frazier, Attorney for Estate Planning, Genice Lee, Harvest Estate and Appraisal Services, and Ashley Mancinelli, J.D., Manager of Gift Planning and Major Gifts at the Walters Art Museum, all spoke briefly on their areas of expertise and then opened the floor to questions, moderated by Alexander Hyman of Galerie Myrtis.


Each of the panelists stressed the importance of documenting your collection. A simple list in an excel spreadsheet of artwork, artist, date acquired, and purchase price or other method of acquisition such as inherited, gift, etc. is a good place to begin, but Frazier also provided a sample “Collection Inventory Sheet” that suggests other information to be gathered and maintained on works in your collection such as any exhibition history, condition of work, any restoration history, appraisal value, image of the work and location of the work. Frazier also suggested that you list any experts or curators involved with the artist in your collection. There are also online software solutions to gathering your art collection information in one place such as Collectify dot com. This may also be an excellent management tool for artists managing their own works.

Getting an appraisal of the works in your collection is key to preserving the work that you love and eventually want to share with an institution to enrich and educate the community. Some collectors in the room weren’t sure that the value of their works was worthy of getting a formal appraisal. Lee mentioned the three “D’s” as all good reasons to obtain appraisals: Damage, Divorce, and Donation. If something in your collection would be irreplaceable if damaged, then it has value and that value needs to be documented and insured properly. She did stress however, that many clients place a great deal of sentimental value on certain works and that her process of carefully researching fair market values and replacement values cannot quantify sentimental value.

The art market is as complex as any other and appraisals rely on many factors. One attendee mentioned that she was in disagreement of the appraisal values she had received and wondered if there was any recourse to determine if those values were correct. It turns out there is! Another appraiser can be engaged to investigate the findings of the first appraiser. Your appraiser will provide you with a USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) appraisal for your records/insurance and donation purposes.


If you are planning to gift your works to an institution, there are some helpful steps to take. Determining whether your family members are interested in your collection and/or informing your family members of your plans to donate your collection to an institution was highly recommended! Considering donating your work to libraries, churches and community centers rather than large museums was suggesting, if your goals is for different communities and children to have more access to the work. It was suggested to meet with institution members in person to determine if your collection is a good fit. Some collectors hope their work will be on display for perpetuity, but museums clearly rotate work and lend work and sometimes deaccession work as well.

When discussing your gift plans and drawing up documents such as a Gift of Art Agreement or Deed of Gift, these details can be worked out over time. It may be that you have several important works in your collection that a museum will display and there be some they will choose to use for educational purposes while others may be sold and the funds turned back directly to support the specific art area that your collection focuses on, according to Mancinelli, Manager of Gift Planning and Major Gifts at the Walters. She also suggested that the maintenance and preservation of a collection over time is quite costly and the consideration of making a monetary gift or endowment along with the donation is a great idea.


Bethea, Chief Curator at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum added that that museums tend to only accept donations of art directly from artists if the image copyrights are included. This specification had never occurred to me but makes sense. One artist at the table was not at all happy with this information and did not want to give up her image rights but I can see the value of having my artwork in a museum collection in exchange for the copyright, particularly if the art is gifted in your will. Many questions were brought up about tax implications that could not be answered in a group format but the clearest was that even if a donation is determined and pre-arranged in your will, there are no tax benefits until the will is executed and the work is physically acquired by the institution.

Numerous other legal and estate topics were briefly covered at the Salon. It was a lot to take in. Whether you have a small or large collection, if you own anything at all, if you have children, you should get your estate in order with any or all of the following documents: Will, Trust, Power of Attorney for finance, Power of Attorney for healthcare decisions, Advance Directive, and Living Will.

Make 2016 the year to get organized! That was my New Year’s resolution for 2015… I am still working on it but this Tea with Myrtis Salon is helping me to get started.

Author Joan Cox is a Baltimore-based artist.

Current Exhibit at Galerie Myrtis: Art of the Collectors V is up through June 11, 2016

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