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A new set of fees determines not what artists can be paid, but what they should be paid. (Image: Art Makers Aotearoa / Design: Archi Banal)
A new set of fees determines not what artists can be paid, but what they should be paid. (Image: Art Makers Aotearoa / Design: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureMay 4, 2023

What is a visual artist paid, anyway? The new artist fee guidelines, explained

A new set of fees determines not what artists can be paid, but what they should be paid. (Image: Art Makers Aotearoa / Design: Archi Banal)
A new set of fees determines not what artists can be paid, but what they should be paid. (Image: Art Makers Aotearoa / Design: Archi Banal)

Arts Makers Aotearoa (Kāhui Ringatoi Aotearoa) has announced the country’s first set of guidelines for artist fees. Sam Brooks explains, with help from the organisation, what that means for artists – and audiences.

What exactly is an ‘artist fee’?

An artist fee is generally understood as being compensation for content and services provided by an artist to publicly funded (that is, through Creative New Zealand or other means) galleries.

The guidelines that Arts Makers Aotearoa gives are comprehensive, from compensating an artist for a solo exhibition (between $1,000 and $5,000), to facilitating a panel at a gallery talk (between $500 and $800), to curatorial fees. In short, if an artist is providing work to a gallery, these guidelines set out the appropriate amount of compensation for that work. You can find the full list here.

How did they decide on these amounts?

The initiative was born from a need for more transparency, accessibility, and accountability throughout the arts sector. However, according to Sophie Sutherland, speaking on behalf of AMA, the initial kernel of the idea came from a Zoom the organisation had with WAGE, a US-based organisation that creates “change-building tools”. One of those tools is an artist-fee calculator, which happened to align with what the arts community wants AMA to advocate for – higher wages and set artist fees.

In coalition with the Aotearoa Public Gallery Directors’ Network (APGDN), they worked out a list of artist fees that both organisations were comfortable promoting. After that, the document evolved in consultation with the wider visual arts community, including other institutions and independent artists that AMA works with.

Are these fees just for visual arts?

While AMA would love for the fees to work for all artforms, because of the timeframe and the scope of their research, this current structure is specifically tuned to the visual arts and publicly funded galleries.

“The ranges we’re giving are a minimum that many institutions are not meeting at present,” she says. “For some, it’ll be kind of scary because often council-funded galleries don’t get heaps of money, but we hope that it’ll be aspirational for those institutions. Then councils can look at these structures and realise that they should be providing more funds for community and council-funded galleries.”

Sutherland stresses that this document is just the beginning of AMA’s advocacy. “We’ve shown that the arts community will benefit from this, hopefully. It’ll be a moving document that is responsive to this ever-changing industry, and inflation.”

Why are these guidelines necessary?

“Currently, a lot of galleries don’t pay anything, or an artist often has to pay to rent a space to show work,” Sutherland explains. “But in terms of international best practice, WAGE [the US organisation] and NAVA [National Association for the Visual Arts] in Australia have this precedent of valuing what artists do and acknowledging that the content they provide is a cultural benefit for the entire company.”

In that way, these fees are vital – they’re where the bread-and-butter income for many artists who aren’t represented in dealer galleries comes from. 

Crucially, AMA also takes the position that galleries should cover or assist artists with production costs, and where that is not possible, should collaborate with artists to seek external funding to cover those costs.

How much can it really cost to make art?

Beyond the time cost, when it comes to visual art, a lot of work goes into it before a gallery could even be involved.

“If you think about where an artwork is made, that’s a studio,” Sutherland explains. “Studios are rented usually, and can be anything from $60 to $90 a week, depending on where and who you’re sharing it with. Then there are material costs, costs if you’re travelling to make work, costs if you’re getting another business to help you make work like bronze casting or framing costs.

“It really breaks down to quite a lot!”

Generally, those costs are not incurred by galleries. Even when the work is made, there is work that the artist has to put in that isn’t compensated – promoting the show, designing the poster, publicising it.

“All of those are great for an artist to be able to put money towards! It accelerates their career.”

What will this mean for artists and, ultimately, for audiences?

“It’ll mean more commitment to the show,” Sutherland says. “In any situation, when you’re treated well and fairly paid, you’re going to want to get back to that space more.”

When an artist engages with the gallery more – because they’re literally able to afford to do so – that means there’s more opportunity for them to engage with the audience, whether it’s through talks, workshops or other community events.

“If you’re in a crap financial situation to start off with, you’re probably not going to be motivated or able to really put yourself out there more.”

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