All About Estates

How to Donate Art

The Leaf by Germaine Richier. Gift of Nora E. Vaughan, 1981, to the Art Gallery of Ontario


I get a lot of inquiries from clients with art or collectibles that they want to donate – sometimes during life and sometimes as part of an estate plan.  These long-term collectors often believe a public gallery, museum or educational institution is the best “one stop” destination for their collection.  Another motivation is a donation is perceived to be easier than a sale, which isn’t always correct.

There are a number of factors to consider when donating to a public gallery as part of an estate plan.

  1. Collection Quality

Only a few private collections are consistently high in quality and sufficiently focused to be of interest to a public gallery. Museum quality works are in the minority.  Pre-arranging acceptance – a “promised gift” – is essential when planning a gift by will.

  1. Finding a Recipient Institution

Public galleries have varied collections and curatorial priorities.  Finding the right one for a particular collection may be challenging.  Most institutions have more works than they can display and limited resources for storage and conservation.   [For example, currently the Art Gallery of Ontario has a show featuring works from their vault.  The Leaf (see above), an important sculpture by Germaine Richier  (France, 1902-1959), is being shown for the first time since it was donated in 1981.]

  1. Acceptance

After a “best fit” gallery has been identified there are formal acceptance processes.  Only a handful of Canadian galleries, such as Art Gallery of Hamilton and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, have their acceptance policies online.  This level of transparency is very helpful.  Be prepared for scrutiny by the curators and acquisition committee.

  1. Cultural or Ordinary?

A donation to art may be treated as an ordinary charitable gift or be certified cultural property, which needs the blessing of the Canadian Cultural Properties Expert and Review Board.  As the Art Gallery of Hamilton website indicates, an ordinary, outright donation is the simpler route.  A cultural property designation, however, improves tax effectiveness by eliminating capital gain and increasing the claim limit to 100% of net annual income for up to six years.

  1. Costs

Handling art is expensive.  It requires valuation, certification, documentation, transportation, storage, insurance and professional services.  The donor typically pays the expenses.

Public galleries aren’t the only charities that accept gifts of art.  Registered charities may accept donations of art for display in public places or to be auctioned for fundraising purposes, but few do so consistently.  Others, like Aqueduct Foundation, may accept art on the condition that it may be sold to use the proceeds for the donor’s charitable purposes.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.


  1. Peggy Killeen

    August 3, 2017 - 1:18 pm

    Thanks, Malcolm, a timely and interesting piece. I agree with you about the need for more transparency about acceptance of art – there is a lot of public misconception about this. I also think the emotional attachment collectors have for their art pieces plays into their reluctance to allow work to be sold, and they often imagine that it will be displayed prominently by their chosen institutions, only to be disappointed. There is also a lack of information out there about the costs of securing, insuring and maintaining valuable art, and the advantage of a financial component to cover this when making a gift-in-kind. I would be curious to know how the Aqueduct Foundation’s policy of accepting to sell has worked to date, and what your process is. Thanks again!

    • Malcolm Burrows

      August 3, 2017 - 4:54 pm

      Peggy – Thanks for the helpful comments. Aqueduct accepts art in the context of larger philanthropic and estate plans – not as a one off. For example, we may have art as part of an estate donation, come of which may be sold and some donated. Malcolm

  2. Aaron Milrad

    August 6, 2017 - 7:23 pm

    Making a donation of an artwork to a public gallery is also a nice way to remember a desceased relative or acknowledge a friend with an added dedication on the donation gift document.
    It will usually be acknowledged on the signage each time that the work is put on display

    • Malcolm Burrows

      August 8, 2017 - 1:41 pm

      Aaron – Thanks for your wise comments about acknowledgement, memorials and legacy in the context of art donation. As an obsessive reader of gallery signage, I find great meaning in these small notations. The AGO said the Richier sculpture was a gift of Mrs. O.D. Vaughan in 1981, who after her husband’s death became the philanthropist Nora E Vaughan, who endowed the curatorship in design at the ROM. I just couldn’t bear to call her Mrs O.D. Vaughan. Malcolm

  3. Kelly Juhasz

    March 8, 2018 - 7:40 pm

    I believe it’s important to understand that the donation of an artwork to a public gallery can take up to a year to complete, in particular, if you are wishing to apply for Canadian cultural property certification. There are art advisors who can help potential donors with this process. But to start, potential donors may want to discuss the possible donation with family, assemble any documentation they have about the artwork including the purchase receipt to assist with the valuation, think about which museums/charities are important to them and why, and then contact the charity to see what their policies are regarding donations and if they are will to accept a proposal for donation. The initial preparation can take quite a bit of time as well as the actual donation stages.

    • Malcolm Burrows

      March 8, 2018 - 7:54 pm

      Kelly – Thank you for your addition to the discussion. Your points are helpful. Malcolm

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