The Artist’s Legacy Workbook
Published by Bryan Memorial Gallery, Jeffersonville, VT

Supported by an Innovations and Collaborations Grant from
The Vermont Community Foundation

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The Artist's Legacy Workbook is a resource developed to help artists, artist's families, and executors in preparing for, navigating, and managing an artist's legacy after their death. Personal and professional experience led to the development of a workshop, sponsored by th Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersoville Vermont, and supported by an Innovations and Collaborations Grant from the Vermont Community Foundation in 2015. The success of these workshops has led to this effort to reach more artists and artist's families through the sale and promotion of materials developed for the workshop.

The commitment to this project began one hot and humid afternoon in 2011 when I was crawling around a small shed, attempting to select works by a recently deceased Vermont artist for an exhibition. Sadly, the challenge that afternoon was to find artwork that didn’t have mold on it, given that it had been stored in uncontrolled conditions. I was horrified.

I barely knew what to say to the artist’s heirs. Most of the work in the shed was going to require massive conservation in order to have future value of any kind. My thoughts, however, came quickly – something must be done so that other art is not lost because the artist made no provision for their work after their death. That is how The Legacy Project began.

For me personally, thinking about legacy goes back several decades. My aunt, Julia MacFarland (1900 – 1999), left no instructions for the disposal of three apartments full of her artwork and artifacts. It fell to me, her artist niece, to make those decisions. To this day, I have not the faintest idea what she wanted.

I studied with Corita Kent (1918 – 1986), known at the time as Sister Mary Corita, a rising star nationally in the pop and art culture movement. When Corita lay dying she reached out to me and said, “You make all the decisions.” This was an assignment from my teacher, which would last a lifetime.

One of the charges to the Executive Director of Bryan Memorial Gallery is the ongoing mission of preserving the estates of two artists: Alden Bryan (1913 – 2001) and Mary Bryan (1907 – 1978). Over thirty years, the process of securing their legacies has come slowly. One day, those who knew the artists personally will no longer be with us. What will remain?

“I’d rather be painting. . .” could be going through your mind as you contemplate these stories, and while I would be too, consider this sad but true recent story. The artist aged 51 had died unexpectedly, and his closest survivor was a stunned sibling 1,000 miles away. Hurriedly, an exhibit was put together by a local gallery with the artwork priced to sell so the sibling could pay for transportation to get his things. Only one painting remains in a public space in the town where he resided. Four years after his death, there is barely a trace that this artist was a vibrant presence where he lived and worked. His work still sits in a relative’s attic. No institution owns his work, and there are very few paintings posted on the Internet. Except in the heart, oblivion can happen quickly.

“After ecstasy, the laundry.” My teacher repeated this Zen saying often. In the case of your artistic legacy, no one is going to do the laundry for you, unles you already have an art staff. Conversations about your artistic legacy can add a poignant dimension to your relationships when you make your wishes known to your heirs while you can still discuss them.

An organized legacy can

  • ensure that your work goes where you want it to go.
  • bring happiness (and relief) to your family.
  • enhance local institutions through donations.
  • secure your role in the life of your community.
  • encourage the next generation(s) to realize the importance of the arts in making a more enriched way of life for all.

Most of us love to tell our own stories, and to make sure they are remembered as we remember them. On the following pages there are many questions to ask yourself about what you want for the future of your artwork and your art story when it outlives you. There are three sections to this workbook. Section One is for the living artist with suggestions as to how to proceed, when to donate, whom to name and what to expect. These suggestions are not legalities, but rather emotional and practical preferences for those fine points of an artist’s legacy that no one is going to know unless you tell them. Section Two is for your heirs, though all sections include relevant information for you and for them. Section Three consists of blanks for you to fill in if you want to keep your answers to the questions raised here in one place.

If you’re anything like me, these pages may encourage you to clean up your act, in ways such as signing artwork you like, and throwing away artwork you don’t like. In the end, who would know but you what your best work is, and where it should go?

— Mickey Myers
Jeffersonville, Vermont, 2015

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