Fundraising for Artists

Michelle Bowen, development director at artists’ studios Primary, explains how to raise several thousand pounds using the things you know best. The Art Auction

Since its foundation in 2011, Primary has been busy creating a creative, active and above all sustainable organisation. Although we have been successful in securing public funding for our initial development, like all arts projects we are keen to explore new ways to generate income, outside the public purse, a necessity in the current climate.

After attending Nottingham Trent University students fine art degree show auction, a kernel of an idea started to form. I was impressed by the way the event was run, as well as doing some successful bidding for pieces in the auction myself! After further research trips to examine how other fundraising events functioned, I wanted to see how we might apply some of that success here at Primary.

Firstly, we started by thinking about what the aims of the event was, why were we doing this? apart from the money of course! For Primary it was raising funds to make structural changes within the building so that it would be more workable for the artists, and to attract a new audience of buyers for work at Primary. We decided to work in partnership with Nottingham Trent University fine art course and felt that the two sites (Primary and the University), plus all of the artists involved, could be combined for greater benefit. Even with the wonderful support of Lauren Green (a final year fine art student at Trent), who had run the degree show auctions, this was the first time we had ever done this type of event, so there were a few hurdles and lessons learnt along with way. Here are our top tips to share that Primary learnt about organising and running a Art Auction:-

  •  Make it fun – we had music, great food & cocktails, performances etc
  • Don’t make it to long – About two hours is fine
  • Have a payment card machine! – makes life so much less stressful
  • Have a clear message about what you are raising the money for- whilst we did, I think we did not make it clear enough to the public
  • Have the works for sale online – so people can see what’s coming up - and include a guide sale price
  • Some of our best auction works that raised the most money where not physical art works but experiences, such as Reactor’s ‘Something’.

The event took place on July 4th 2013 and raised £3,500; which we were happy about, and it was successful enough for Primary to want to run the event, on an annual basis, forming a key part of our future fundraising activities.


Primary offers affordable artists’ studios in the heart of Nottingham. Set up by artists for artists, Primary is an inclusive, creative playground in which artists from around the world can meet & work and the public can share in and learn more about the production of contemporary visual art, through an upcoming programme of exhibitions, events and activities. PRIMARY were supported by Nottingham City Council in securing a long lease on the old Douglas Road Primary School. We secured funding to refurbish the site from the Arts Council and Foyle Foundation, which was completed in October 2011.

You can find Primary at 33 Seely Road, Nottingham NG7 INU.  More information here: www.weareprimary.org

Nottingham - UK - where we are made!