The Visual Artists Charter project was initiated by VAI to address the professional relationship between artists and those that they work with. The Artists Charter takes the form of a code of practice, commonly agreed upon, which adopts principles of good practice and demonstrates why and how they should be applied. The core aim of the project is to provide a set of practical and ethical guidelines for the conduct of business between visual artists and organisations.
Primarily, the Charter is addressed at organisations exhibiting the work of visual artists. The huge diversity in types of exhibitions and how they are sourced, resourced, and presented affects the way that organisations and artists deal with each other artistically and financially. The goal for both the organisation and the artist is mutual benefit, as both stand to gain from the relationship. Therefore, the basis and starting point of the relationship is one of mutual assistance and trust. However, it is also a commercial and contractual relationship and a goal of the Artists Charter is to assist both sides in negotiating this aspect of the relationship.
VAI is committed to the principle that artists should be paid an acceptable professional rate for the work they undertake; that they should be provided with appropriate written agreements, a consistent standard of treatment, and a form of redress for when issues arise. We believe there is a particularly strong case to be made in instances where artists are dealing with organisations that receive significant public funding and that these organisations are in a position to take the lead and demonstrate ‘best practice’ when it comes to working with or exhibiting the work of visual artists.
The conduits used by artists to communicate with audiences are usually institutions and organisations (such as public galleries, regional arts centres, publications, cultural institutions and so on) many of which are in receipt of public funds. Both Arts Councils on the island of Ireland properly require organisations in receipt of funds to operate legally and to spend the taxpayers’ funds they have been provided with by the Councils on the activities for which they received the money. A significant percentage of the funds which these organisations expend goes on payment to individuals. These payments are regulated by law (redundancy act, minimum notice act, etc) and/or by contract (employment contracts or contracts for service). The key group of participants who are not usually covered by these regulations are artists. There are no set guidelines on this matter and thus even publicly funded institutions may not always pay an artists’ fee for exhibition. This is usually due to a lack of sufficient funding or a failure to understand the reality of life as an artist. Artists undertake a significant amount of largely ‘invisible’ and usually unpaid work such as planning, meetings, transportation, hanging, catalogue work, PR etc. The equitable payment of artists is of vital importance given that most do not have the same opportunities as those in other professions when it comes to social security schemes, maternity, sick pay, pension, and unemployment benefits.
VAI advocates that publicly funded organisations should have publicly available documents that provide accurate and transparent information about their policies in relation to exhibition, the payment of fees and any cost sharing arrangements.
With the above in mind, VAI began the task of developing a Charter, drawing from the experiences of practicing artists along with those of commissioners, curators, the Arts Councils and others with whom artists work. The first step in drafting the Charter was research into both local and international charters that are in place across a number of organisations. From this, a consultation document and draft Charter was produced and provided to the volunteer team for comment and feedback. The next phase of the consultation process involved inviting key stakeholders such as the Arts Councils and publicly funded not-for-profit organisations to inform the development of the Charter. All of the organisations chosen were in receipt of a significant level of Arts Council funding. Again, the proposal document and the current draft of the Charter were provided. 23 of the organisations completed a survey and provided feedback on the draft Charter.
The current draft of the Charter is provided here:
1. The Charter
As a publicly funded organization:
We will treat all artists respectfully, courteously and fairly
We will provide all artists with written agreements that are clear, fair, and equitable
We will provide these written agreements in a timely manner
We undertake, within the recognised constraints of arts funding, to provide each artist with a fee that is commensurate with their contribution to our programme.
We will provide such fees in a timely manner
In the event of making a sale, we shall deal with both buyer and artist in a fair manner, and ensure that monies received for works sold, or placed under offer, are provided to the artist in a timely and correct manner as contained in the letter agreement between us and the relevant artist(s)
We undertake to present artists’ works in a professional manner that ensures that the work is displayed appropriately
We undertake to ensure that works are exhibited in a secure and safe environment
We undertake to insure works that are provided into our care
We undertake to ensure that works will be correctly described and attributed to their author
We undertake to consult artists concerning publicity for the exhibition of their works
We undertake to provide copies of all publicity, media response, and installation documentation when available
We will provide an accessible and fair complaint and redress system.
The comments received on the draft indicated overwhelming support for the Charter from the publicly funded gallery system. There was general acknowledgment that the Artists Charter is a tool that can be utilised for the benefit of all parties. The Charter can assist artists in negotiating fair returns and conditions for exhibiting and selling work. Likewise, it can provide publicly funded bodies with benchmarks for acceptable practice and help to enhance their reputation as a professionally run organisation.
A goal of the project is that the Charter becomes something that artists seek when working with publicly funded organisations and something that these organisations are keen to have. VAI recognises that while some organisations will already have in place many of the elements outlined above, for others this will be an aspirational document. The Charter, therefore, is presented as a number of key undertakings that organisations can work to, or aim towards acheiving within a specified period of time. It is envisaged that in future the Charter will become a form of quality certification that organisations can display and one which will give artists additional encouragement to collaborate confidently and creatively with the organisation. This initiative will not only provide artists and organisations with a clear and unambiguous statement of the level of service they can expect but also includes a framework that allows us (VAI) to measure and improve the quality of services provided and to report this publicly.
Invariably, the success of the project will be shown by the number of organisations that will sign up for the Charter. Early adoption by key stakeholders is vital in this regard.