Many UK artists are feeling their profession is under attack, with opportunities for paid work dwindling. Evidence systematically collected by a-n shows that in the first half of 2012, only 30% of openly-offered opportunities had money attached – a drop of six percentage points on the year before.

Galleries seem to be amongst the worst culprits, many offering little or nothing to exhibiting artists, and an increasing number charging artists for the privilege of mounting or submitting a show.

Submission fees remain a bone of contention for many artists, as comments posted by artists on an interview with Open Ludlow organiser Jo King highlight. Amanda Cox wrote: ‘I do feel like I’m being exploited. Model and actors’ agencies aren’t allowed to charge up front after a big hoo-ha and years of being exposed on TV, neither are freelancers’ diary services, so why is art excluded from this legislation?’

In the US, W.A.G.E (Working Artists for the Greater Economy) found that 58% of artists exhibiting at a New York non-profit organisation 2005-2010 received no form of payment, compensation or reimbursement – not even expenses.

Drawing on the W.A.G.E questions, AIR will be surveying the a-n+AIR membership, as a preface to a campaign to improve exhibition practices and highlight those galleries that treat artists well. Artist and AIR Council member Emily Speed quotes in her blog that the W.A.G.E findings are equally pertinent in the UK: ‘Everybody keeps shifting the responsibility of sustaining artists (the real lifeblood of the arts) to some other group’.

a-n and AIR are promoting the regularly-updated sample artists’ fees for residencies and commissions, that reflect artists’ experience level and self-employed costs. a-n has also called for Arts Council England to make fees to artists expenditure a key performance indicator for NPO-funded organisations: ‘These agreements tended to favour the galleries over the smaller organisations supporting visual artists that were cut, but if we want great art in the future it needs serious investment in artists now, and publicly funded galleries must play a part in this.’

Exhibition Payment Right

The need to reinstate Exhibition Payment Right (EPR) formed part of a unanimous decision at October’s Scottish Artists Union (SAU) AGM. A motion – now the subject of a petition – demands that arts funding body Creative Scotland provides ‘a reliable, accessible and effective infrastructure for artists and makers focused on the long-term sustainability of the sector and its organisations’. This, continues the petition, should include making contracts, use of SAU recommended minimum rates, and making payment of exhibition fees mandatory in funded organisations. SAU, which hosted an event with W.A.G.E in September, urges Creative Scotland to ‘monitor implementation of all of these measures within grant and investment requirements.’

It’s not just the UK that’s concerned about payment to artists. In Canada, lobbying by artists’ representation organisation CARFAC has ensured payment of artists’ fees for exhibiting and copyright. This has been enshrined in law since 1988, although CARFAC is still fighting a court case against National Gallery of Canada that wants to limit its use.

In Australia, visual arts advocacy organisation NAVA has estimated an additional AUS$3m per year needs to be allocated within federal and state/territory government arts budgets, earmarked for the payment of artists’ fees. In a petition during the summer, NAVA called for all government arts funding authorities to require their clients to pay artists’ fees at least at the minimum levels, as set out in the Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts Craft and Design Sector.

Making the case, NAVA Director Tamara Winikoff said:”It’s true that artists gain publicity and visibility through exhibiting in galleries, public events and festivals. However, there are other factors to consider when examining the issue of fee payment. NAVA believes that the payment of artists’ fees is one of industrial fairness. Like other occupations, artists deserve fair pay for the work they undertake, including the cost of their time. They often spend considerable time and effort creating the artworks and rarely is their labour accounted in the final costs. Additionally, if artists are providing works on loan for public exhibition, they don’t have the opportunity to sell these works. Thus there is an opportunity cost. Artist loan or commission fees recognize artists’ labour and reimburse them for this gap in sales opportunity.”

Over 4,000 signed a petition presented to the Federal Arts Minister in August. Artist Alison Smith, from Merewether, New South Wales, said: “Artists’ fees are an important way to acknowledge the value of the work being exhibited, and should rightfully form a part of an artist’s income.”

Rent and compensation

In 2009, the Swedish government adopted a new agreement for remuneration to artists for the display of work. The MU agreement – a ‘participation and exhibition remuneration agreement’ – covers payment to artists for display of work, as a kind of ‘rent’. This is additional to other kinds of financial compensation for an exhibition, such as transport, installation, publication, etc. The agreement makes it clear that all work the artist undertakes at exhibitions – before, during and after the show – is to be governed by a written contract and remunerated outside the framework of the exhibition fee.

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

Artist-led group Reko – the name is a colloquial term meaning something equivalent to just, fair or decent – wanted to bring more transparency to the art sector in Sweden by collecting, analysing and publishing facts about the working conditions for living visual artists. In 2010, following a survey of selected publicy-funded arts organisations, Reko gave its stamp of approval, the Reko Mark, to seven art institutions that provided good working conditions during 2009, and awarded the Reko Prize to Göteborgs konsthall for providing the best working conditions. The Reko Index rated 60 out of the 86 art institutions included in the survey according to whether there was a written contract, the artist was paid expenses and the artist got a fee for exhibiting, along with general comments by the artist on the exhibition arrangement. A second survey in 2011 rated ten out of 62 institutions to be ‘reko’ (fair), with the Museum Anna Nordlander awarded the Reko Prize.

Reko commented: ‘Art is often shown in elegant surroundings, and there is an aura of wealth around art exhibitions, but the artist nevertheless receives no or very low fees. By putting the production of art in an economic context, Reko wants to raise questions about how the economic conditions might influence what kind of art gets produced: If your reward is mainly cultural capital, who decides to become an artist? Whose voice gets heard, whose images gets shown? Will we read this art differently knowing under what circumstances it was produced?’

In Norway, artists receive a two-fold ‘compensation’ for the exhibition of their works, NOK 231 per artwork per month for exhibiting, and NOK 245 per artwork per month to compensate their lack of access to using or selling their artwork during the time of exhibition. Arts Council Norway is not involved in the design of contracts and size of the exhibition fee. Agreements for compensation and contracts are developed and negotiated by artists’ organisations BONO (Norwegian Visual Artists Copyright Society), Norwegian Visual Artists Association, Norwegian Association for Arts and Crafts and the Ministry of Culture.

Resources on

Artists rates of pay 1989-2004

Artists work in 2011

Changing face of artists employment