By CHRISTA LAWLER, Duluth News Tribune
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) -- How much is a Sarah Brokke painting worth? Last year one of her pieces went for the price of handmade, personalized jewelry by Crystal Pelkey.
The two artists arranged a mutually beneficial trade.
Pelkey, who has few family photos, would get a painted portrait that included her mother and brother, both of whom have died.
Brokke, in exchange, would get earrings, necklaces, bracelets and a beaded cuff -- a complete collection of Pelkey's handcrafted work.
Art bartering is a common practice in the local arts community, where artists trade their paintings, music and jewelry in exchange for another artist's work or services, the Duluth News Tribune reported. Local artists who sometimes struggle to assess the value of their own work said bartering is a way to get something of value in exchange for their work -- without worrying about what to write on the price tag.
"How cool is it to be able to trade something that is the value of your work," Brokke said. "It's cooler than money."
Photographer Ryan Tischer has a wide-format printer, a rarity among his fellow photographers at the Washington Studios. Andy Hardman, also a photographer, does not.
The two have arranged a deal where Tischer makes prints of Hardman's portraits in landscape work, and Hardman will shoot Tischer's wedding next year. If not for this tradeoff, both services would cost about $2,000.
"It allows you to splurge a little bit," Tischer said. "You get a piece of art or a service I couldn't justify paying for. Our budget for our wedding is $5,000. Now I'm able to pay nothing and get high-quality work."
“I wish the whole world bartered. Money screws everything up for everybody.”Andy Hardman, photographer
It's not just high-quality photographs. Tisher has been able to beef up his own art collection in a way that he wouldn't be able to afford as a working artist. He sometimes wheels and deals on the art fair circuit.
"I couldn't justify buying my own art," Tisher said. "But if I have a friend who likes my work, we can do a barter, and both get something that's cool and unique that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise."
Sometimes the trades go beyond art-for-art. Pelkey has traded jewelry for martinis or wine. Brokke has traded paintings for child care. Cello player Kathy McTavish has literally played music for food, a trade she genuinely appreciates.
"It's such a kindness," she said.
Hardman said he has traded for Qigong treatment; piano lessons for his wife; and dental work that included crowns, fillings and a teeth-whitening kit.
"I just wish it happened more often," Hardman said. "It's very pleasant to take money out of the equation. The hardest thing I ever do is pricing my work.
"I love bartering. I wish the whole world bartered. Money screws everything up for everybody."
McTavish said she likes the directness of trade. She has trouble putting a price on what she does and suspects other artists feel the same way.
"You don't have to go through this cash stand-in," she said. "You directly exchange services. It's like, your hour is worth my hour. It has a lot of equitableness to it. If you go into the cash market, the arts aren't valued. Bartering is nice from that standpoint."
Brokke said that when it comes to the art scene, money has a weird value system. That goes away when it comes to art-for-art transactions. She tends to do her trades just with friends.
"You have to be careful that both parties feel they're being reimbursed in the right way," she said. "It's an awful nice luxury to have that interchange with an artist."
Bartering gets a bad reputation with the IRS because the exchanges aren't always included as part of an artist's taxable income. But without receipts, there probably isn't a record of the transaction, which makes it tricky territory.
If an artist trades a painting for a new roof, the artist must claim the value of the roof as income, said Terry LaPorte, a master tax adviser for H&R Block.
Trading art for art, on the other hand, is an equal exchange until one piece is assigned a greater value either by selling it or appraisal. Then, one of the owners would have to pay taxes on the capital gain.
"I'm afraid a lot of people don't even know this is something they're supposed to report," LaPorte said. "The IRS cares about every dollar. The IRS follows the letter of the law."
McTavish said she can't always contribute financially to the causes that are important to her, but she wants to give something. Instead, she donates her time and her music.
"I don't have a lot of cash," she said. "Instead of giving them cash toward their cause, for me, I like playing."
She notices that she regularly gets paid in kind. After shows, McTavish has cleaned out her tip jar to find pieces of origami, sketches or poetry. Or maybe she finds a photograph of herself performing online.
"That's huge," she said.