Visual artists’ fees: what is the status of artists in Australia?

When it comes to visual artists' rights, how does Australia compare with other countries?
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In Australia, we are not alone in hassling governments and funding bodies to require  fair payment to artists for the commissioning or loan of their works. In trying to secure this commitment, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) points to Canada’s Status of the Artist legislation as a continuing inspiration.


This Canadian Act recognises as one of its overarching principles, “the importance to Canadian society of conferring on artists a status that reflects their primary role in developing and enhancing Canada’s artistic and cultural life, and in sustaining Canada’s quality of life.” But more particularly, it puts real muscle behind its commitment by asserting “the importance to artists that they be compensated for the use of their works, including the public lending of them”.


Though Australia is a country with a similar history, set of values and lifestyle to Canada, as yet there has been no comparable recognition by our national government of the value that artists deliver to the community and the economy through legislating to support recognition of their status. As the campaign for artists’ fees mounts, artists fervently hope that the long promised National Cultural Policy will deliver some similar sentiments and commitment when it is finally released.


NAVA has asked not only for it to be mandatory that artists’ fees are paid at least at the levels recommended in the industry code of practice, but also that the small to medium galleries be assisted to meet this obligation through an annual allocation of government funding specified for this purpose (NAVA has recommended $3 million). Recently over 4,000 people supported this request by signing NAVA’s petition, which was sent to the Federal Arts Minister, Simon Crean.


Looking at what some other countries are doing, a very recent report published by a-n: the Artists Information Company has researched what is happening in relation to the artists’ payment issue in England, Scotland, Sweden and Australia. Similarly to NAVA, a-n has called for their peak arts funding body, Arts Council England to make payment of appropriate levels of fees to artists a key performance indicator for its funded client organisations and to require galleries to do more to support visual artists, over and above exhibition fees. It also is asking for more transparent accountability through funded organisations having to report their spending on artists in comparison with their other costs. NAVA has been talking to the Australia Council along similar lines.


The Scottish Artists Union (SAU) is in the process of getting up a petition requesting that their arts funding body, Creative Scotland make it mandatory for its funded organisations to use contracts, and pay exhibition fees at least at the SAU recommended minimum rates. This is contained within their call for effective infrastructure to support artists and makers and the long-term sustainability of the sector and its organisations.


An inspiring example is the adoption by the Swedish government in 2009 of a ‘participation and exhibition remuneration agreement’ which covers payment to artists as a form of ‘rent’ for display of their work. The agreement requires that there must be a written contract making clear that this artists’ fee is to be additional to the galleries covering costs associated with exhibitions including installation costs, transport of the artwork, documentation and publications.


The agreement is binding on all public institutions with an exhibiting role, and provides guidance for all professional exhibition organisers in receipt of public funding. It was signed by the Swedish Arts Council as the representative of the Swedish state, with the Swedish Artists Association Swedish Artists (KRO/KIF), the Association of Swedish Illustrators and the Swedish Photographers Association.


In making the case to the Australian federal and state governments, NAVA has likened the logic to that which underpins schemes currently in place to support writers when their books are made available on loan from a library. These schemes called the Public Lending Right (PLR) and Educational Lending Right (ELR) are Australian government programs that make payments to eligible Australian writers and publishers in recognition that income is lost through the free multiple uses of their books in public and educational lending libraries. Through these schemes the government has recognised that it is supporting the enrichment of Australian culture by encouraging the growth and development of Australian writing. NAVA asserts that the same kind of support is long overdue for the visual arts sector.



Tamara Winikoff
About the Author
Tamara Winikoff OAM is Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).