The Art of Giving Art
Andrew Mellon was one of the wealthiest men in America when he died in 1937. Mellon's personal art collection - 21 sculptures and 121 paintings, including works by Raphael, Titian, Boticelli and Rembrandt - was donated to the country, and it became the core collection for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
While few private collections today rival the quality of Mellon's, collecting art remains a passion for many people - and just like Mellon, they must someday decide how to transfer their art treasures.
Making the Donation
How you decide to proceed will depend on the works of art you intend to donate. The process varies depending on whether you are seeking to give away selective pieces of value or an entire collection. You might wish to consider the following:
Donating Individual Works of Art. Because many museums will only accept pieces that will appreciably enhance their existing collection, you might need to explore other options. Colleges, public libraries, private schools and other non-profits, like YMCAs or nursing homes, are generally interested in gifts of art.
Placing a Collection. Large collections can be more difficult to place than individual pieces and you may need assistance from several sources to accomplish your goals. For example, you may need to enlist an independent art advisor to represent your interests and identify appropriate recipients, a development officer at the recipient agency to represent it and one or more appraisers to arrive at an appropriate value for the gifts.
If you plan to donate a single work or a large collection to a museum, you may wish to find out how much of the museum's collection is on permanent display, or loan; its criteria for displaying works of art; any policy on selling art after it has been put to a related use; and whether an endowment is required.
Providing an endowment for maintenance and costs related to the gift can be a powerful incentive for a museum to accept your collection.
Tax Consequences of Art Donations
Whether you are donating a single work of art or a collection, you'll need a qualified appraisal of the value of your gift in order to receive tax-related benefits. The recipient of the gift may be able to refer you to an appropriate appraiser.
Receiving a deduction for the full, appreciated value for a gift of art requires reasonable proof that the gift will be used for a purpose related to the recipient institution's mission. For example, your gift will qualify for a fair market value tax deduction if you donate your art to a museum where it will be displayed.
Giving your works of art to a library or a school where they will be used for a purpose such as an art education program will also likely allow you to take a deduction for their full fair market value.
Adapted from an article for Community Foundations of America, 2002.