Thursday, June 05, 2014

Paid in kind

In Canada artists get them by legislative right, the Norwegians base theirs on the amount of product and the duration of display, for the Swedes it’s a standard rate and the Poles attach theirs to the average monthly wage. We’re talking artist fees in public art institutions.

Some artist fees are paid in NZ by public institutions (we heard Auckland Art Gallery paid fees of $2,000 to artists included in Freedom Farmers) but they tend to be token compared to real costs. Usually artists are expected to be happy with what the Ministry of Culture and Heritage listed in a recent report as “The feeling of self-satisfaction from producing artworks which exemplify who you are as an artist” and “The value derived from your work being positively viewed by critical reviewers.” Thanks guys.

As usual any debate about fees is fuelled by context. In the museums that show art, staff salaries and conditions have increased phenomenally over the last 30 years. There is now an income and lifestyle chasm between the art professionals (the museum crowd surging ahead) and most of the contemporary artists they show (let's forget the teachers for the moment). Over the same three decades artist fees have stayed pretty much the same i.e. zero except for the odd exception. 

Even when fees are paid they are usually tied to production costs as artists today are expected to fill large spaces with work made for the occasion. Fortunately for the art museums the universities have joined the party with research funding for exhibitions by their staff although that's cold comfort for artists who haven't landed a teaching berth.

So should artists show for the love of it and the value of being "positively reviewed"? Other artists benefit directly from institutional exposure. Musicians get APRA fees and writers get some compensation from libraries sharing their books around. So here's another question. When art museums charge for exhibition entry, why don't the artists get a percentage? Creative NZ could take a lead and insist that any exhibitions it funds have artist fees in the budget.

A recent survey of 18,000 visual artists in the UK found that:
• 71 percent taking part in publicly funded exhibitions received no fee
• Of those, 59 percent did not get their expenses paid

Sounds familiar.