I recently received a Get-Ready Grant from the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, an organization that helps to support and protect the career aspects of artists. As a career woodworker for eight years, legacy planning was perhaps the last aspect I had not addressed professionally. Talking about legacy planning for artists is one of the least interesting aspects of my grant. You’d probably be more inclined to change the bag on the dust collector than involve yourself in this discussion! Stick with me though, and I’ll try to convey the importance of the subject. Maybe I can even make a case for the benefits you’ll derive from this exercise while you’re still on the top-side of the grass!
Plainly stated, legacy planning is about what to do with your “stuff” after you’re gone. Your “stuff” comes in many forms from the artworks themselves, to the tools and materials necessary to make them. But, your “stuff” also includes intangibles you might not have considered…
Why put yourself through this agony? Three reasons:
- most obviously, it will reduce the administrative, physical, and legal burden you leave to family and friends when you’re gone,
- it can help preserve your reputation by protecting your name and works, and
- it can provide an incentive for clients to purchase more of your work now!
This past week, an illustrator with a studio in the same building as me recounted meeting with the son of a recently deceased oil painter (who also had space in the same building). Despite his passing nearly a year ago, the son was still coming to terms with the situation. Visiting from out-of-town, he had returned to survey the father’s estate. The painter’s home was brimming with work my neighbor explained. We never intend to hurt those closest and dearest to us. Yet through our inactions that is the result. It manifests itself emotionally, but can be a considerable financial drain.
The quagmire deepens if third-parties, such as galleries, have any of your artwork. Who holds the rights to the work in their possession? What can, and cannot be done with them since the originator has expired? Can, for example, the gallery put them on sale to liquidate them thus potentially devaluing the artist, and damaging their reputation? Further confusion results if, in the process of reconciling the painter’s home, the son finds another artist’s work. If not clearly marked as such the potential exists to confuse it for his parent’s. How is he supposed to determine proper attribution? I face a similar issue due to slightly different circumstances in my research. On a recent visit to a French museum, a colleague and I came across what we believe to be an unacknowledged Oeben mechanical table. Since Oeben held special patronage, he was able to ignore guild rules; one of which was the requirement to stamp all pieces produced! Not only is this frustrating, it permanently decreases the value of the work! The question will always remain, is this an original, or the product of someone else working in the artist’s style?
Finally, when Jean-François Oeben, cabinetmaker to King Louis XV, died at the peak of his career in 1763, his workshop was deep in debt, and his two chief craftsmen, Jean-François Leleu and Jean Henri Riesener fought for control. Contrast this with the case of Sam Maloof whose production continues today, and through activities such as the recent Smithsonian seminars continue assisting the community by addressing provoking questions. Because of their meticulous record-keeping, the pieces Maloof produced continue to increase in value. His clients understood this, and his back-order log grew as he aged. This didn’t “just happen”, Maloof planned ahead.
You don’t have to do it all yourself, and you don’t need to get it right on the first try, but you need to get started.The raw material for a wood worker is wood (duh!). A jeweler uses precious metals, stones, etc. For a writer, the basic building blocks are words, sentences, and paragraphs. However, unlike natural materials, letters don’t assemble themselves into these structures. So, writers go through the process of creating “drafts”; each one (hopefully) improving on the previous bringing them closer to what they were intending to say, the way they intended to say it. The Get-Ready Grant CERF+ provided got me started. Due to the legal structure under which my business operates (an LLC), I used it to consult with an attorney, and draft a will and healthcare directive documents. Lawyer fees aren’t insignificant, so to prepare for these meetings and help reduce costs, I relied heavily on the CALL Estate Planning Workbook from the Joan Mitchell Foundation.
It can be daunting thinking about, and plan for the time when you’re no longer thinking and breathing. If this paralyses you, talk with someone about it. Explaining it to another person (and recording it!) can be the beginning of the process which can be transformed later. But only you can take the first step…