Artist/Gallery contracts: A new initiative

This week sees the publication by Arts Council England and the Scottish Arts Council of a series of Contract Checklists and Q&As (written by Nicholas Sharp, consultant to Swan Turton) for galleries participating in the ‘Own Art’ scheme, and for the artists whose work they sell.

The ‘Own Art’ scheme offers interest-free credit (up to £2,000) to art buyers. The scheme’s main aim is to make it more affordable for individuals to buy high quality contemporary art and craft and was extended to London galleries for the first time in 2006. There are currently some 325 participating galleries.

The Contract Checklists identify the key contents to be included in artist/gallery contracts and cover three types of arrangement:

  1. an exhibition contract for a solo or mixed show;
  2. a consignment agreement for use when artists leave work with galleries on consignment/’sale or return’; and
  3. a long-term representative arrangement between artist and gallery.

The Q&As cover issues such as:

  • What form should the contract take?
  • How should the parties go about negotiating the contract?
  • How does the new Artist’s Resale Right affect these contracts?
  • Is the gallery under an obligation to share client information with its artists?
  • What is an ‘exclusive’ contract?
  • How is VAT treated?

The scheme’s first evaluation in March 2006 showed that, in the first 18 months of operation, it generated 3,595 sales, at a value of some £2.5 million. Income to artists over this period was estimated at £1.6 million. Some 30% of buyers were first time buyers and, encouragingly, 98% of buyers said they would consider taking out another Own Art loan.

Many British galleries have been reluctant to offer contracts to their artists, believing that ‘trust’ is more important than written agreements. But, as the Arts Councils have stated in the introduction to the new material: ‘The chances are greater that [artist/gallery relationships] will be successful and longstanding if the parties agree and sign a contract that identifies the key points and clearly sets out what is expected of each party.

The publication of this guidance material will offer artists and galleries alike useful assistance in this process. They are also a step in the direction indicated by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Art Market in March 2005 whose recommendations included the need for Codes of Practice and Best-Practice Guidelines in artist-dealer relationships.

The published material is an extension of Nicholas’ work over many years encouraging best practice in the visual arts sector via developing model contracts, training, articles, information on legal topics and legal support to artists, arts organisations and businesses.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.