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Why Hunter Biden’s art sales are concerning, explained by Walter Shaub –



It would be hard for President Joe Biden to not do better on government ethics issues than his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, whose legacy in that area was one of self-dealing and blatant corruption. But Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) under President Barack Obama and briefly under Trump, has been outspoken about a significant way in which he thinks the Biden administration is falling short.

On Twitter, Shaub has been regularly criticizing the Biden White House for its handling of Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s efforts to sell his works of art for as much as $500,000. White House officials recently announced an agreement with the art seller by which the identities of buyers will be shielded from Hunter to avoid the transactions being used to curry favor with the president’s family, but Shaub argues that the prices are egregious, and at a minimum more light needs to be shined on the deals.

“Hunter Biden should cancel this art sale because he knows the prices are based on his dad’s job,” Shaub tweeted on July 10. “Shame on POTUS if he doesn’t ask Hunter to stop. If that fails, he should ask that the names of buyers be released & pledge to notify us if any buyer ever meets with admin officials.”

Shaub is far from the only one criticizing the White House’s handling of Hunter’s art sales. As has been the case with much of the controversy surrounding Hunter dating back to when Trump was impeached for allegedly pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate him, much of the criticism is coming from right-wing media outlets and Republicans who are operating in bad faith and in some cases without shame.

But Shaub — who left government in July 2017 over objections to Trump’s failure to divest from his businesses and other concerns and now is a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight — says people (namely, a certain segment of liberal Twitter) who think he’s doing that sort of bad-faith critique are missing the point.

“When I was criticizing Trump, a lot of his supporters assumed it was driven by partisanship, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a lot of Trump opponents assumed it was driven by partisanship,” Shaub told me. “From their perspective, I guess it looks like I switched sides, but that’s misunderstanding the side I was on. I was always on the side of democracy and government ethics, and that’s the work I’m continuing to do.”

White House officials declined to comment on Shaub’s criticisms on the record, instead referring me to statements press secretary Jen Psaki has made about the art sales at recent White House press briefings, during which she’s defended the administration’s arrangement with Hunter’s gallerist, Georges Bergès.

Hunter “has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career,” Psaki said on July 9. “But all interactions regarding the selling of art and the setting of prices will be handled by a professional gallerist, adhering to the highest industry standards. And any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand. And the gallerist will not share information about buyers or prospective buyers, including their identities, with Hunter Biden or the administration, which provides quite a level of protection and transparency.”

Shaub, however, counters that since Hunter is likely to meet with prospective buyers at two upcoming art shows, the public would actually be better served by knowing more about who buys the works and for how much.

“The recommendation I’ve been pushing all along is you should be promising that if you happen to learn who one of the buyers is, you’re gonna immediately tell the public, ‘We learned this,’” said Shaub. “And then if that buyer gets a meeting with any political appointee in the government, or any community — email, telephone, letter, in-person meeting, Zoom meeting, teleconference — that they will notify the public every time that buyer has an interaction with a political appointee in this administration.”

Shaub readily acknowledges that the Biden administration is “doing 1,000 times better than the last administration” on ethics, but argues that the bar needs to be higher.

“We’ve just come through a four-year period of abject ethical failure, and the world is looking to see if the United States is able to clean up its act now that the norms have been stretched out of shape like an elastic pair of sweatpants put on somebody much bigger than they were made for,” he said. “And you don’t go about showing the world or the American people that this guy capitalizing on his connection to the president is any kind of sign that we’re ready to go back to having integrity in our government.”

A transcript of my conversation with Shaub, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

Aaron Rupar

I think there’s a sense among people on Twitter and I think more broadly as well that Hunter Biden is a private citizen, he doesn’t work for the government, and therefore he should be able to do what he wants with his art. What do you think people who hold that view get wrong?

Walter Shaub

I think that these same people found it easier to be upset when Donald Trump Jr. was offering dinners to investors — the chance to have dinner with the president’s son. Or when Jared Kushner’s sister — another private citizen — was touting what she hoped she could do for investors with regard to EB-5 visas.

People have long asked questions about what the relatives of public figures do when they appear to be capitalizing off the presidency. And the administration clearly doesn’t disagree with the principle, because there was reporting that they asked Meena Harris [Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece] to tone down the efforts to connect herself to this administration while promoting products. So they seem to only disagree in the specifics of this instance, but not with the idea that relatives of elected officials shouldn’t be capitalizing on their public service.

Aaron Rupar

In what respects specifically do you think the White House could do better with this Hunter Biden stuff?

Walter Shaub

I think what’s lost in this discussion is that there are really two considerations, only one of which has to do with Hunter Biden. The more important one, from the governmental perspective, is what the White House has been doing in this case. If we stand back and say a legitimate concern for the public is whether or not people who purchase this art are really paying for access to the presidency, then the White House must’ve recognized that concern because they told us, “Well, we went and ensured that the names will never come out and that way we won’t have to worry about them buying influence, because they can’t buy influence if we don’t know who they are.”

So there too they have conceded the principle that the public has a right to be concerned about whether people — who are paying a relative of the president sums that seem wildly disproportional to what he would get if he weren’t the president’s son — are getting access. And when you start from that point of agreement — that this is a legitimate concern — then it becomes relevant to look at what they did.

And what they did is they intervened with an art dealer who by all accounts was already planning to keep it secret, to make sure he keeps it secret. And they claim that they negotiated an ethics agreement the terms of which they refused to share with us. They won’t show us what written communications memorialized the discussion. So they inserted themselves in the process, sealed up the possibility the public could know, and then refused to tell us the details.

And we’ve already learned that we’ve paid a price for their refusal to share the details with us because they told us Hunter Biden could not possibly find out who the buyers were. And subsequently it’s been discovered that he’s going to be at two showings where it appears he’s going to meet the universe of prospective bidders. And they failed to mention that to us, so then they backpedal and say, “Yes, but he won’t talk to them about the sales.”

And so you’ve taken it from the universe of fabulously wealthy people around the world to the universe of the small number that actually show up at this show. And suddenly it becomes a lot easier to say, well, he’s gonna have a pretty good sense of who the buyers are by gauging their reactions and hearing the things they say to him.

And when asked directly by a reporter last week, what will happen if one of the people at this show says, “I’m going to buy this piece of art” — and I’d go further and say, what if they say, “I’m going to buy this piece of art and I’m going to pay x amount” — and Psaki’s only response was, “He won’t find out. He won’t know and we won’t know.” And then she quickly went to another questioner. So she deflected and refused to answer the question: What happens if a buyer says that I’m going to buy the art for this amount?

On top of that, they say he’s not gonna take any inappropriate bids. Well, they’re asking $75,000 to $500,000 for art by a guy who has never even juried into a community center art fair, let alone sold a single piece of art. Anything in the range that they’re asking is obviously inappropriate. So the statement, “Don’t worry, they won’t take any inappropriate offers” — well, what the heck is the definition of “inappropriate” in that context?

So again, this sounds entirely disingenuous. And then beyond that, it’s implausible that the identities of these buyers are not gonna come out, because for one thing, the buyers aren’t party to this secret ethics agreement with the White House.

So it really then starts feeling like the White House intervened specifically for the purpose of keeping the public in the dark, because it doesn’t sound like they changed anything other than pressured the dealer not to say publicly who’s buying it, and it’s almost as if, one could wonder, were they just worried that watchdogs would hound them and start printing stories about “this buyer got this meeting and that buyer got that meeting with the administration, so let’s just nip that in the bud and keep the public in the dark”?

But what they didn’t do is establish a mechanism by which, if Hunter Biden learns or if members of the administration learn who buyers are, that they’ll turn around and disclose that to us.

Aaron Rupar

What would you like to see the White House do?

Walter Shaub

The recommendation I’ve been pushing all along is you should be promising that if you happen to learn who one of the buyers is, you’re gonna immediately tell the public, “We learned this.” And then if that buyer gets a meeting with any political appointee in the government, or any community — email, telephone, letter, in-person meeting, Zoom meeting, teleconference — that they will notify the public every time that buyer has an interaction with a political appointee in this administration.

Now they may feel that’s ridiculous, because they don’t feel that anybody is gonna get preferential treatment. And it certainly seems like the president’s supporters on Twitter think that. The problem is that that is absolutely the opposite of government ethics. Government ethics isn’t, “Let’s assume everybody is good and will never do anything wrong and trust blindly that they will never do anything wrong with no mechanisms or safeguards to check on that.”

And frankly, half the country — nearly half the country — voted against this guy, and if [Biden] wants to be the president of the entire country — unlike the last president, who seemed to only want to be the president of his supporters — then he owes it to those people who don’t necessarily trust him that he’s gonna be transparent and they can gauge for themselves whether these people are gaining access to government.

Aaron Rupar

There’s also the issue of the sums of money involved.

Walter Shaub

The prices are so absurd. And people will say, well, the famous people sell art for high prices. I see that as an admission that people saying that know he’s only getting this money because he’s the president’s son. And he’s got a history of taking jobs or deals that appear to be enhanced or offered because he’s related to government.

And unfortunately so many smears and untruthful things have been said about him — some of them bordering on ludicrous — that I think the public gets into this mode of knee-jerk reaction to the idea that then any criticism of him must be exactly the same as the far-fetched, fantastical ideas that Rudy Giuliani and others were selling. But two things can be true. Those can be ridiculous, and the guy can have made his entire career practically off of being Joe Biden’s son.

And so that gets us to the unsavory aspect of this. We’ve just come through a four-year period of abject ethical failure, and the world is looking to see if the United States is able to clean up its act now that the norms have been stretched out of shape like an elastic pair of sweatpants put on somebody much bigger than they were made for. And you don’t go about showing the world or the American people that this guy capitalizing on his connection to the president is any kind of sign that we’re ready to go back to having integrity in our government.

Now I will readily concede that Joe Biden cannot readily control his son. But he certainly can try, and he certainly can call up his son and say, “You know, I worked really hard to be the president, my legacy matters, you’ve never sold this art before — can’t you wait until I’m out of office and sell it the day after I leave the White House?” And he could even put pressure on him. “Look son, if you want to come to Thanksgiving dinner, you’re not going to do that.”

But ultimately that’s Hunter Biden’s choice to make, and if he’s not patriotic enough to care about the message this sends regarding the integrity of our government and our elected leaders, then that’s on him and not on Joe Biden. That’s on Hunter Biden’s lack of patriotism. But nobody who’s objective is going to believe that this first-time art seller isn’t asking for these prices because of the fame that comes with being Joe Biden’s son. And I feel like because people have been unfair to him that now other people feel they have to go overboard and say, “Well, he’s owed one free little bout of profiteering off the presidency to make up for all the mean things that were done for him.” And that just isn’t how it should work.

Aaron Rupar

So what sort of work do you think it’s acceptable for relatives of public officials to do?

Walter Shaub

I think there has to be some wiggle room that when it’s a close call, you need to err on giving them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think that it would be impossible for Hunter Biden to sell art if he were willing to sell it for the prices someone might get at a local artists cooperative. So if these pieces were selling for $5,000 a piece, that’s probably more than you’d get as a first-time artist, but it’s a low enough amount where it wouldn’t have raised eyebrows.

So people keep saying, “What can he do for a living that wouldn’t cause criticism?” Well, there’s always going to be unfair criticism — you can’t worry about that. But there wouldn’t be fair criticism if he were just to avoid clearly appearing to benefit off the presidency by either selling art at normal prices for a first-time artist, or doing a job that he’s done before, like being a fund manager or an attorney.

So I don’t think that saying he can’t sell the art for $500,000 a pop means he has to go live on a steam grate.

Aaron Rupar

I want to get your assessment on a broader level of how the Biden administration is doing on government ethics. There has also been criticism of Joe Biden plugging Hunter’s book during a recent town hall event and some of the insider lobbying that’s been going on. What’s your assessment of how things are going coming off a presidency that shook our conceptions of what standard procedure is in terms of government ethics?

Walter Shaub

I think they’re doing a good job on compliance. And I think that unfortunately, they view the ethics program as a compliance program. We have a weak ethics program with weak rules, and they are doing a good job complying with those weak rules.

They are certainly doing 1,000 times better than the last administration. But their talking point is “the administration with the highest ethical standards in history.” They have an ethics executive order that goes further than any past administration, and I applauded it when it came out. It doesn’t go miles further — it goes a bit further. And it’s a good thing, it’s a good document. But it’s not transformational. It’s a somewhat incremental improvement over the past, and a good improvement, but not transformational.

I think after the catastrophe of the Nixon presidency, there was a sea change when Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act, the Inspector General Act, the Civil Service Reform Act, and while those changes wouldn’t have prevented Nixon doing what he did, they did establish a new culture and a new set of norms for the executive branch that were largely followed until 2017. And then what Trump taught us was those reforms didn’t go far enough. They were weak tea and they didn’t create any kind of enforceable mechanisms, and public confidence in government has been shaken. And in that context, we needed transformational change, and we had a narrow window of time in which to pass legislation that would change the culture of government, and we needed an administration to come in and say, “We’re not gonna just go back to the old ways of Washington that many people found unsavory, we’re gonna set a new course.”

And unfortunately what they got is a double-edged sword. They brought in really talented, really smart, really experienced people, which is ideal when you’re walking in in the middle of a pandemic for addressing that pandemic. Unfortunately, people like that come with baggage and a belief that the old way of doing things worked, and that there’s no problem with the revolving door, and there’s no problem with having people come from representing corporations to then regulating those corporations, and they don’t achieve a different standard.

And so, in that context, every little bit of sloppiness undermines public faith in government— even if they may perceive it as minor because it was done before. And so when you have someone like Steve Ricchetti having multiple family members working for the government, that undermines things. You cannot convince me that that many members of the family wind up in political posts — and so many other relatives in government of top Biden advisers are suddenly in political posts — that it’s all a coincidence.

It may not meet the legal definition of nepotism because the parents or other relatives may not have put in a word for them, but you get the feeling that there’s this cozy process where whoever is making the decisions either thinks this will please them or thinks the relative is trustworthy, so let’s have them in here. And then you have to start wondering, well, you know, what happens with the disadvantaged kid who didn’t get born with the silver spoon in their mouth and parent in government who now has one less slot they can compete for in government?

And so that bothers me a lot. It bothers me that the secretary of energy was touting energy vehicle technology while holding stock in an electric vehicle company. She could’ve divested sooner or made a decision to stay far away from it. Now she probably is in technical legal compliance with the criminal conflict of interest law, which has some complex concepts addressing what’s covered. But that doesn’t make it right just because it’s not a crime. It undermines confidence to have the secretary of energy touting a technology in which she has invested.

Aaron Rupar

What do you think it says about the state of our politics that sounding the alarm about the ethical issues surrounding Hunter Biden’s art sales has made you a lightning rod on Twitter?

Walter Shaub

I’m not surprised, because when I was criticizing Trump, a lot of his supporters assumed it was driven by partisanship, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a lot of opponents assumed it was driven by partisanship. And from their perspective I guess it looks like I switched sides, but that’s misunderstanding the side I was on. I was always on the side of democracy and government ethics, and that’s the work I’m continuing to do.

If that’s a necessary purge, to get rid of people who don’t really care about government ethics and democracy, and instead have been so traumatized by the partisanship of their times that they begin to think the means are justified by the ends and anything goes as long as your team is on top, then good riddance to those. And I’m so pleased to see how many more people truly care about democracy and government ethics.

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Canada Council 2022 Open Call for Purchases – Canada Council for the Arts



Ottawa, August 10, 2022—The Canada Council is pleased to have launched an open call by its Art Bank for the purchase of new artworks from artists in Canada. With a dedicated purchase budget of $600,000, this next Art Bank purchase, which is part of the Canada Council’s strategy to establish a collection that is truly representative of Canada, has been timed to coincide with the Art Bank’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Individual artists (groups and collaborations) and artists’ representatives are encouraged to apply by September 14, 2022, for the opportunity to become a part of the Art Bank’s next 50 years.  To be eligible for purchase, their artworks must have been created within the last five years and be by living Canadian artists or permanent residents of Canada. Submissions must be made directly by the artist or the artist’s representative to the Art Bank. The purchase program guidelines and the submission forms are available for download from the Canada Council Art Bank Purchase Program webpage; those interested in applying may also email the Art Bank directly for more information.

In addition to prioritizing the acquisition of works by artists that are not currently included in the Art Bank collection, the current open call strives to acquire artworks by artists who self-identify as Indigenous, Black, racialized, Deaf, or having a disability, from official language minority communities, youth, 2SLGBTQ, gender-diverse and women, including artists at the intersections of these identities.

This is the first open call for Art Bank purchases since 2011. The last call selected from 1,875 submissions and resulted in the acquisition of 52 new works by Canadian artists, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, and drawings, worth a total value of $303,025.

On June 16, 2022, the Art Bank kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with the promise of this current open call for art purchase at the exhibition opening of Looking the World in the Face, an exhibit that will remain open at Âjagemô throughout this year and into 2023.

As the Art Bank celebrations continue to unfold, the public is encouraged to follow and use the hashtag #ArtBank50.

About the Canada Council for the Arts

The Canada Council for the Arts is Canada’s public arts funder. The mandate of the Canada Council is to “foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts.”

The Canada Council’s Art Bank operates art rental programs and helps further public engagement with contemporary arts through exhibition and outreach activities.

The Canada Council’s investments foster greater engagement in the arts among international audiences and within Canada. This contributes to the vibrancy of a creative and diverse arts and literary scene and supports the presence of this scene across Canada and around the world.

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Tehran unveils Western art masterpieces hidden for decades – Mountain View TODAY



TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Some of the world’s most prized works of contemporary Western art have been unveiled for the first time in decades — in Tehran.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, rails against the influence of the West. Authorities have lashed out at “deviant” artists for “attacking Iran’s revolutionary culture.” And the Islamic Republic has plunged further into confrontation with the United States and Europe as it rapidly accelerates its nuclear program and diplomatic efforts stall.

But contradictions abound in the Iranian capital, where thousands of well-heeled men and hijab-clad women marveled at 19th- and 20th-century American and European minimalist and conceptual masterpieces on display this summer for the first time at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

On a recent August afternoon, art critics and students were delighted at Marcel Duchamp’s see-through 1915 mural, “The Large Glass,” long interpreted as an exploration of erotic frustration.

They gazed at a rare 4-meter (13-foot) untitled sculpture by American minimalist pioneer Donald Judd and one of Sol Lewitt’s best-known serial pieces, “Open Cube,” among other important works. The Judd sculpture, consisting of a horizontal array of lacquered brass and aluminum panels, is likely worth millions of dollars.

“Setting up a show with such a theme and such works is a bold move that takes a lot of courage,” said Babak Bahari, 62, who was viewing the exhibit of 130 works for the fourth time since it opened in late June. “Even in the West these works are at the heart of discussions and dialogue.”

The government of Iran’s Western-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, the former Empress Farah Pahlavi, built the museum and acquired the multibillion-dollar collection in the late 1970s, when oil boomed and Western economies stagnated. Upon opening, it showed sensational works by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock and other heavyweights, enhancing Iran’s cultural standing on the world stage.

But just two years later, in 1979, Shiite clerics ousted the shah and packed away the art in the museum’s vault. Some paintings — cubist, surrealist, impressionist, even pop art — sat untouched for decades to avoid offending Islamic values and catering to Western sensibilities.

But during a thaw in Iran’s hard-line politics, the art started to resurface. While Andy Warhol’s paintings of the Pahlavis and some choice nudes are still hidden in the basement, much of the museum’s collection has been brought out to great fanfare as Iran’s cultural restrictions have eased.

The ongoing exhibit on minimalism, featuring 34 Western artists, has captured particular attention. Over 17,000 people have made the trip since it opened, the museum said — nearly double the footfall of past shows.

Curator Behrang Samadzadegan credits a recent renewed interest in conceptual art, which first shocked audiences in the 1960s by drawing on political themes and taking art out of traditional galleries and into the wider world.

The museum’s spokesperson, Hasan Noferesti, said the size of the crowds coming to the exhibition, which lasts until mid-September, shows the thrill of experiencing long-hidden modern masterpieces.

It also attests to the enduring appetite for art among Iran’s young generation. Over 50% of the country’s roughly 85 million people are under 30 years old.

Despite their country’s deepening global isolation, and fears that their already limited social and cultural freedoms may be further curtailed under the hard-line government elected a year ago, young Iranians are increasingly exploring the international art world on social media. New galleries are buzzing. Art and architecture schools are thriving.

“These are good works of art, you don’t want to imitate them,” said Mohammad Shahsavari, a 20-year-old architecture student standing before Lewitt’s cube structure. “Rather, you get inspiration from them.”


Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed.

Nasser Karimi And Mehdi Fattahi, The Associated Press

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Want to own a piece of original artwork for just $5? You should play this lotto –



Left: an acrylic and oil painting by Montreal-based painter David Bellemare, titled 21st Century Nagual. Right: handblown glass vase by Kayla Francis Della-Nebbia. (David Bellemare/Kayla Francis Della-Nebbia)

We all know original art can be expensive. But what if I told you that for just five bucks — and a little luck — you could buy an original work of art, while also supporting the artist as well as an important cause within the community? If that sounds too good to be true, well, then you just don’t know about ArtLotto yet.

Like so many artists, ArtLotto’s founder, Gabriel Baribeau, has struggled with an existential matter throughout his career. “Why am I doing this?” the artist will ask himself. “What is this for?” 

He wonders: “How can I make my art serve the people? How can I make my art politically powerful?” And, at the same time, he wonders: how can he make his art accessible?

Primarily known as a painter, Baribeau has had success in commercial settings before — but he doesn’t want to sell his work only to the wealthy. He wants to share it with friends and family, he says. But his labour requires compensation.

“I’m sitting there often feeling absurd, having multiple people say, ‘Oh, I wish I could own your art.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, well, here’s my hilarious price. Can you meet that?'”

So, disenchanted with traditional models of art commerce, Baribeau has come up with what seems to be a winning DIY solution: what if you raffle the art?

A sculptural jewelry holder with earrings by artist Jesse Hiss. (Jesse Hiss)

The Hamilton-based artist began ArtLotto in January 2021, launching the experiment with an oil painting of his own. (It pictured a person bobbing for apples, which, if coincidence, is an apt one.) ArtLotto has since raffled the work of some 20 other creators, raising thousands of dollars for the artists as well as thousands more for community causes close to their hearts. Entry tickets to win the artworks — some of which could fetch hundreds or even thousands if sold by a dealer — cost just $5 each. 

“It is built to be a disruptor of the single-wealthy-buyer model that the art world runs on,” Baribeau says. He emphasizes, though, that it doesn’t dispel the idea that art ownership is mainly for the rich. The raffle can only give people a small chance to play in the game.

Beyond its novel luck-of-the-draw feature, what really sets ArtLotto apart is the way it splits the revenue pie. Typically, galleries take half the sticker price of an artwork, leaving the other half for the art-maker. ArtLotto, on the other hand, takes 20 per cent (or $1 from each ticket) of raffle proceeds to cover base costs, like shipping and website maintenance. The remaining 80 per cent is then split between the artist and a social initiative of their choosing.

Left: an acrylic painting by Montreal-based artist Katie McDonald titled Release. Right: a diorama by Hamilton-based artist Andrea Flockhart, titled The Sin Eater. (Katie McDonald/Andrea Flockhart)

This added dimension seeks partly to answer that ever-present ache: “What is this for?” The act of art-making alone “isn’t in any way altruistic,” Baribeau says. “That’s the problem that leaves a lot of these artists who want to be good people squirming.” Giving the art a social mission, as ArtLotto does, enables the artist’s work to do good directly in their community — and do it without costing the artist their livelihood. Some of the causes ArtLotto has benefitted thus far include the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, Sex Workers’ Action Program Hamilton and Resilience Montreal. One of the first questions Baribeau asks any prospective raffle artist is who would they like to help. 

As for the art on offer, ArtLotto’s curatorial tastes are eclectic, with an inclination toward the psychedelic and the adventurous. Baribeau selects the artists himself, featuring creators whose work he admires with nary a concern for CV highlights or exhibition credentials. That means a wildly talented high school student might star in one lotto, while the work of an MFA who’s shown internationally might comprise another. Baribeau invites the artist to contribute whatever work they want, whether it’s their most saleable, something new and challenging, or a piece they’d just really like to liquidate. Some works would be gallery darlings, while some would never make it through the doorways of a traditional commercial space. But ArtLotto “levels the playing field,” Baribeau says.

Usually, I’m at a market and I’m talking to hundreds of people and I’m really hustling to get that sale…This process involved none of that.– Sonali Menezes, artist

Without the white cube’s high art context, ticket buyers respond to raffle items simply because they admire them, and appreciation alone establishes value. A charcoal drawing by the London, U.K.-based artist Sara Anstis, for example, inspired another Londoner — “presumably a collector,” Baribeau says — to snatch up a ton of tickets. “They were buying the win,” he says. But ArtLotto’s randomizer favoured a different admirer. When Baribeau reached out to congratulate the winner, he shared a bit about the artist’s impressive background with them. And they said: “I’m glad you told me, cuz I was gonna Scotch tape it to my kid’s wall…. I just liked it.”

Perhaps ArtLotto’s biggest success, however, is the fact that it’s more or less sustainable for artists. Participants are not offering up their works at a painful discount — the raffle model often raises roughly the target price they would regularly receive for the item, Baribeau says. “And, in some cases, it hits way above that mark.”

Sonali Menezes, whose interdisciplinary practice includes printmaking, zinemaking, performance, video and poetry, was one of ArtLotto’s very first artists. “Usually, I’m at a market and I’m talking to hundreds of people and I’m really hustling to get that sale,” she says, “to make up the tabling cost and the transportation costs, the printing costs, my lunch. There’s a fair bit of stress and anxiety around ‘Will I break even? Will I make a profit?’ And this process involved none of that.” Her print, The Hairy Bather, raised more than double its target price. 

Another successful lotto featured Hamilton-based painter Kareem-Anthony Ferreira, whose star has grown internationally over the past few years (yes, that’s his work hanging in LeBron James’ dining room). Ferreira contributed a print portrait of his Aunty Pam with raffle proceeds supporting the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra, the local steelpan band his mom co-founded nearly 20 years ago. The art was about family and the raffle supported a cause dear to the family, so the Ferreiras and their community supported the lotto enthusiastically.

“It’s this kind of continuous thing,” Ferreira says, “giving back to the community, using my talent and heritage to give back to that program, which is itself giving back … I’ve already told Gabe to slot me in again.”

A silkscreen print by Hamilton-based artist Kareem-Anthony Ferreira called Aunty Pam. (Kareem-Anthony Ferreira)

Baribeau considers this a rare example of a “closed loop” — when all stakeholders (the artist, the social cause and the audience) are intimately connected. It is a powerful dynamic, and one he’d like to emulate in future raffles. In fact, as the project grows, Baribeau would like ArtLotto to do less of the sort of philanthropic work that simply airdrops one-time donations to area charities and organizations and do more direct service within the community that ArtLotto is itself building. He can imagine classes, workshops, grants and sponsorships all funded by ArtLotto. This sort of social development, after all, is the true strength of the project.

The raffle will not overturn the way the larger art market does business, but that was never its mission. Instead, ArtLotto emphasizes that “there are artists everywhere in your community,” Baribeau says. “Its goal is to show that and to better connect artists to their community.”

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