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Friday, October 10, 2008


Untitled #1

During an Alice Springs gallery visit last Friday, Arts Minister Peter Garrett energetically hyped the great benefits that a resale royalty scheme will apparently confer on visual artists in Australia. The proposed legislation to establish a right to resale royalties for visual artists is expected to be in place by mid-2009.

The announcement that the royalty scheme will soon be a reality is undoubtedly good news for many visual artists. Royalties will be payable upon all ‘original works of graphic or plastic art’ that sell for $1000 or more, upon their second sale. The right will apply to all eligible works that are acquired after the legislation commences – whether the first acquisition or transfer of ownership was by gift, inheritance, sale, or some other means. The royalty payable will be calculated at an uncapped flat rate of 5% of the resale price.

The media release reporting Garrett’s announcement pointed to a number of advantages in the introduction of the scheme: Indigenous artists and their estates will benefit from both the significant increases in price that many works are now fetching on the secondary market, as well as the requirements for greater accountability and record-keeping that will be contained in the legislation. Visual artists in general will benefit from the fact that a right to royalties places them in the same field as artists working in the mediums of music, film, literature and so forth, where royalties are an established part of those artists’ income from their work.

Unsurprisingly, a few significant factors were conveniently glossed over during the fanfare. Firstly, the definition of what will constitute a ‘work of art’ appears to contain some substantial holes. The definition proposed will be based upon that utilised in the EU, and covers works in such media including “a painting, a collage, a drawing, a limited edition print, a sculpture, a ceramic, an item of glassware or a photograph”. Video/digital/new media are conspicuously absent from this definition, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) the right also applies to works that are sold as ‘installation’-type suites, including video, sound and so on.

Further issues are raised when the outcomes of the scheme, and precisely who will benefit, are considered. While Indigenous artists have been a particular (and deserving) focus in this aspect of the debate over introduction of the scheme, the Discussion Paper issued by DCITA in 2004 made the point that often, female artists (from all backgrounds) are underrepresented in the secondary art market (2004, p34); male artists, and especially white male artists, are by far the dominant group in terms of whose work fetches significant prices upon resale. While the $1000 minimum resale price opens the scheme to many visual artists, the recurring issue of whose art is bought and sold more often, involving arguments about gender/culture/race and the art market, are unavoidable.

The resale royalty scheme is a valuable and long-overdue right for visual artists. Re-examining how a ‘work of art’ is to be defined will be an important aspect in the drafting of the legislation, and hopefully one that is paid due attention considering the increasing interest in new/digital media in contemporary art practice. Most importantly, the scheme is certainly not a final answer to supporting the entire visual arts community, in all its diversity. As the Arts Law Centre stated in its response to the Discussion Paper:
…this is but one mechanism for increasing the income steam of artists in Australia. It does not negate the need for other support mechanisms being available to visual artists and craftspeople, such as increased funding to the visual arts and many of the other proposals outlined in the Myer Report (2004, p6).

Indeed, this blogger is waiting with interest to see which killer arts policy is next heralded by Peter Garret.

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OpenID Shermozle said:
And if the artwork is taken overseas and sold?
Anonymous Matthew Rimmer said:
I think that the DCITA report has to be treated with caution and a certain degree of distrust. There was some comment at the time that the DCITA report was a piece of rationalisation of the Howard Government's policy (which was basically hostility to a right of resale). As a consequence, I think that one needs to be careful about relying upon the DCITA report.
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