Sunday, 10 April 2005

Let’s knock knees and talk fees: Proposition no. 1 : The principle of an acknowledgement fee

Let’s knock knees and talk fees: Proposition no. 1 : 
The principle of an acknowledgement fee, or, 
Don’t be ‘that’ illywhacker of an art administrator 


Is there at present a mandatory artists’ fee? No. Yet once there was. Once Australia was ahead of its time in this area. For in 1983, Australia once took heed of the knowledge brought to it by its artists and, through vigourous prompts by the Artworkers Union (1), NSW, instated a mandatory schedule of artists’ fees that was in operation until 1996; when this ‘Schedule of Fees was dropped from the new Council-wide Handbook’, reads The Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry, 2002, (Myer Report). ‘Since that time, artists’ fees have not been a formal requirement for triennial funding arrangements.’ (2) 

From 1996 to now the payment of artists’ fees has been voluntary. It presently depends on what each art institution discerns as necessary, or finds it is able, to pay. Of course, within this present climate of increased budgetary pressure on Visual Art – where art institutions are forced to ascribe, for poignancy’s sake, the  impossibility of thirty-three metric reasons, based on forty-five explicable facts (with twenty-two eye witnesses) for every dollar sought from the Federal and State Governments for their programmes – the payment of artists’ fees has been discerned to be less and less necessary by art institutions; especially when it’s the one bill its contractors (artists) are too downtrodden to chase through the law courts to recover (where as the printer, timber merchant, paint stocker and wine broker most certainly would). And so it has been whittled down to nothing in most circumstances, either before or after exhibition costs have been deducted. 

Why? Because an artists’ fee is not considered to tally as a measurable reason based on explicable facts. Well, the next illywhacker of an art administrator that tries that line out on you will, in the very next moment, most certainly fall into a ditch for the mentally lazy who can never see where they themselves are going, let alone the state of contemporary visual art. For this is clearly not true. There hasn’t been anything more scrutinised by scientifically applied calculus within the visual arts, than the livelihoods and income streams of visual art and craft practitioners and how these impact on their practice (3). From this, then, it is not too difficult to calculate the connection between dwindling artists’ practices – due to economic pressures within a culture that does not readily purchase contemporary art of the most pressing aesthetic argument (4) – and the dwindling of an authentic source of artworks for public gallery programmes of the highest quality. And if that same illywhacker of an art administrator is then found to be dusting themselves down after climbing out from their ditch, mumbling all the while to themselves that the only fact reliable enough to list in a grant application is that apples already toffeed grow on trees and artists should just be ‘thankful’, then you’ll have regrettable proof that we have already tripped over the cusp of aesthetic degeneration in this country, into a ditch that will take us a long time to climb from. 

So as to prevent this from happening, let’s immediately decide on what the ‘principle’ behind an artists’ acknowledgement fee (AA fee) might be, so art administrators might apply it with impunity once the Government assigns it the necessary funds. 

The Myer Report identifies three types of fees in current use for works of art exhibited in non-commercial or public spaces: an artists’ fee, a loan fee and an exhibition fee. The Report states that, ‘The first two types of fees, artists’ fees and loan fees, are based upon the principle that artists have an ongoing interest in the exhibition of their works, and that artists should receive some benefit from the temporary exhibition of their works in public spaces’. (5) This is prefaced in the Report by the fact that, ‘One source of income for visual artists and craft practitioners is payment associated with the exhibition and public display of their works’. (6) The principle of the third, somewhat different, ‘exhibition fee’ is ‘compensation, either partial or full, for the costs incurred by the artist in relation to the exhibition … where the work was created specifically for the exhibition’. (7) 

Based on this, the questions we have then to answer in proposing the principle behind an AA fee is: Why should an artist benefit from the exhibition of their work in public spaces, and why should an artist be compensated for either the costs incurred, or time spent, setting up an exhibition of either one or more removable works, or work made specifically for that exhibition. 

A document compiled by Simpsons Soicitors, Sydney, referred to in the Myer Report states that: ‘The proposition that artists should receive payment for the public exhibition of their works is contentious. Artists argue that they have the right to be compensated for such use of their products and exhibition organisers respond that they cannot afford the additional expense. Certainly, the overseas experience indicates that the payment of exhibition fees to artists is becoming commonplace and exhibition organisers have been able to cope with the small additional costs involved. Such problems can usually be overcome so long as the fees are budgeted for during the planning stages of the exhibition’. (8) 

Once the decision has been made that the payment of a mandatory schedule of artists’ fees should be re-instated, then all other obstacles can be overcome by properly budgeting for this fee. This is, of course, only if the Federal Government will set aside the necessary funds to cover the payment of these fees. This, then, is crucial for the payment of a mandatory fee. Why, then, should the Federal Government pay a set schedule of fees to artists either directly through the Australia Council, or indirectly through public art institutions? Based on what principle might this justifiably stand? 

’… [T]o improve artists’ livelihoods, to work towards a living income for artists’(9), is one answer we’ll find if we look to Canada and the guiding principle behind CARFAC’s schedule of fees – a schedule established by an organisation founded in 1968 by artists for artists, and referred to by the Myer Report. Yet need we look entirely offshore? The principle behind CARFAC’s structured remedy for artists’ troubled livelihoods is not too dissimilar to the initiating concern of the Australian Federal Government when it commissioned the Myer Report, in July 2001. For here it announced that, ‘Visual arts and craft are major contributors to Australian culture and the Australian economy, yet at the same time, visual artists and craftspeople are amongst the lowest income earners in Australia’ (10). In order to value this initiating concern of the Federal Government’s, then, it would be most suitable to find the principle behind an artist’s acknowledgement fee within the resulting Myer Report it commissioned. 

And to do so, we needn’t look far beyond the ‘Chairman’s Preamble’ by Rupert Myer. Here we find, in the most uplifting of terms, almost the entirety of the Myer Report’s concern condensed into one simple statement. Based on it, it is therefore proposed that the principle of an artists’ acknowledgement fee be: To make possible a future for the sector where artists and craft practitioners enjoy a higher status within the community, where they are faced with fewer economic uncertainties, where there are greater opportunities to exhibit and sell works of art and where the financial and market success of their work is not taken as the sole measure of quality. (11) 

This, then, is the rock-solid reason why an artist should receive a mandatory acknowledgement fee. Its proposed principle is extracted from a report commissioned by the Federal Government, instigated by a concern for the increasingly dire, impoverished state of artists when they are major contributors to the Australian economy; albeit a concern the Government, most confusingly, now seems ill disposed to remedy (12). So please, don’t be ‘that’ illywhacker of an art administrator to ignore it as well. It is the one item that can be listed on your grant application that does attest to at least thirty-three measurable reasons, based on forty-five explicable facts, with over twenty-two thousand eye witnesses, Australia wide, for every dollar sought under its name. Please, let the Federal and State Governments know that a mandatory acknowledgement fee based on a schedule of no less than $2,000 for solo exhibitions is more than reasonable; and that you are more than willing to seek, receive, and dispense this fee in the name of making the future of our sector possible. (13) 

Gail Hastings for SASS 

1. Artists Nigel Lendon and Vicki Varvaressos were instrumental in driving this process. 
2. ‘The Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry’, Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Canberra, 2002,  p. 85. 
3. see David Throsby and Virginia Hollister, ‘Don’t give up your day job: an economic study of professional artists in Australia’, Australia Council, Sydney, 2003. As well as previous surveys. 
4. Until, of course, this pressing aesthetic argument becomes canonised, then the market is fast on its heels. But this is also the problem with Australia: Does Australia ‘make’ history in contemporary visual art, or simply just follow it? Because Australia refuses to look at the work of its own artists unless that work looks like the work currently being canonised overseas, it falls short, always behind the times in  contemporary visual art. Who is ‘Australia’? If only we could track down the singular creature lurking in the shadows somewhere, and shame it in front of the mob by yelling, ‘it’s your fault, so change’; then the problem would easily be solved. But Australia isn’t one singular identity – it is us all (admittedly lead by a Federal Government, however, in its legislation). We need, once more, critical brilliance to pulsate through the ink-laden words of journals and newspapers to get the discourse beating, hurdling with a capacity and dexterity of thought that will take us to the edge of our resistance and let us see the potential of what this resistance withholds. We need the courage to positively (not negatively) debate visual art, and not just smother it in sweet reassuring words as though it is permanently convalescing and needs swathing, nor negative words that blinds us to it further. But words that witness ‘how’ we see. Words that prompt us to open our eyes to see for ourselves and not just follow, blindly, ‘because it’s art’. That’s stuffed. In short, we need to recognise our brilliance and not run from it through jealousy, lack of confidence because it doesn’t look like the stuff overseas, or fright. 
5. ‘The Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry’, ibid., p. 84. 
6. ibid. 
7. ibid. 
8. see S. Simpson, ‘The Loan of Work for Public Exhibition’, Simpsons Solicitors, Sydney, p. 2, at 
9. CARFAC FEE SCHEDULE 2005, CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation / le Front des artistes canadiens), Ottawa,, p. 3. Note: ‘CARFAC’s founding principle and continued area of concern is that artists, like professionals in other fields, be paid fairly for their creative output and services’. 
10. The Hon. Peter McGauran MP, Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation, press release, 23 July, 2001,, citation id. S3K46. 
11. Rupert Myer, ‘Chairman’s Preamble’, The Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry, Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Canberra, 2002,  p. 1. The excerpt reads: ‘...It is possible to imagine a future for the sector where artists and craft practitioners enjoy a higher status within the community, where they are faced with fewer economic uncertainties, where there are greater opportunities to exhibit and sell works of art and where the financial and market success of their work is not taken as the sole measure of quality.’ 
12. Recommendation One calls for programmes of direct funding to artists, where, in the Report’s findings, it is stated that the Australia Council should reinstate a mandatory schedule of artists’ fees. This recommendation has not been addressed by the Government, even though it is the first of twenty recommendations. Why? 
13. Many thanks to the public galleries who have already done so (including those who have affiliated with us). But this, so far, has only been a few. 

To follow: 
Proposition 2: A clarification of fees, do we need to be confused by so many? 

Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April 2005 8:55 AM GMT+10