Sure, promise me an artist fee – then not pay me

32 artists affected by the Biennale of Australian Art (BOAA), band with NAVA to expose the unpaid contracts.
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Late last year, ArtsHub reported on a situation arising with the closure of the Biennale of Australian Art (BOAA), an ambitious project described as ‘the largest ever showcase of living Australian artists,’ that showcased 150 artists across three “art villages” across Ballarat over 47 days (21 September – 6 November 2018).

At the time, there were ructions that the artists were not being fully paid. Julie Collins, Managing Director/Artistic Director of BOAA told ArtsHub in an interview:  ‘Artists are owed about $70,000, which will be paid when we receive our retained funding from RDV (Regional Development Victoria) and City of Ballarat. All up we have approximately $100,000 owing. As I said in the email [to artists], it is a delay in payments … this should be sorted within a month.’

To read more background on this debacle: Artists at the pointy end of Ballarat Biennale’s financial over-commitment

That was November 2018. By our calculations six months have passed, and the situation seemingly is unchanged, except that BOAA has gone into formal administration.

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has stayed on the case, and this week released a statement on behalf of 32 of the artists affected by BOAA.

The 32 artists are owed a total of $117,950.50 by BOAA as documented in legally binding contracts. The total owed to all artists exceeds this figure, and artists recognise that BOAA’s total debts exceed this amount significantly.

A statement from NAVA makes clear the artists’ expectations on the steps required to honour their unpaid contracts.

The BOAA artists expect: 

  • Recognition that the names and reputations of First Nations artists and non-Indigenous artists from all over Australia have been used by BOAA to secure grants, and yet these artists have not been paid their contracted fees, despite some having work sold by BOAA;
  • Public honesty from BOAA, an end to false and misleading public statements
  • A realistic plan for payment that involves genuine action on the part of BOAA
  • That BOAA’s liquidators, Nathan Deppeler and Hayden Montgomerie of Worrells, recognise that several BOAA Artists are owed a year’s worth of income, such that artists will be treated as priority creditors;
  • No further BOAA public statements or plans are made about any future event of any kind unless and until all artists have been paid

One artist from WA said: ‘That I couldn’t have the sale of my work reimbursed makes me feel especially exploited, and feels like an act of theft.’

Another Victorian artist rightfully demanded: ‘I want my artist fee off [BOAA] because she used my name in her [grant] application and that is corrupt.’  

‘To be honest I’m feeling super worried now. Two thirds of the amount owed ($14,000) is money that I paid from my own funds to participate in BOAA – all of the freight, materials, printing, travel costs etc. This is a huge amount for me to be out of pocket. I am desperate to receive the money soon,’ added a NSW artist.

On the handling of artists’ work, a NSW exhibiting artists revealed: ‘Shortly after the opening, my sculpture was moved several blocks from where I had installed it. I only found out inadvertently! I was not consulted or involved in the moving. I was outraged as the sculpture was damaged in the process and not given access to electricity as at the first location. I hope something can be done! This is a great deal of money for me and I had entered the contract in good faith.’ 

Read: Further artists’ comments on NAVA’s website

NAVA CEO Esther Anatolitis said that ‘the success of any arts event is the success of the artists who’ve created its work… Artists should never be treated as an afterthought.’

NAVA says that it has attempted to meet with BOAA, but they did not attend. On behalf of the artists, NAVA has lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Non-Profits and Charities Commission.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina