My gallery isn't paying me on time. They are well known with an established reputation, so I thought their representation of me would work out great. Indeed they sold some of my work more than a few months ago. However, when I've called them about paying for the work, they say there are some bookkeeping errors or "the check is in the mail" but it is only a partial payment. This has been going on for months! What should I do?
A desperate and embarrassed artist.
This letter paraphrases a common problem that I hear from artists, over and over. Artists are frequently not paid on time, or maybe not paid at all. This is an old story, but it seems that with these hard economic times it happens more frequently.
Galleries usually pay their bills once a month. That means that consignment items sold may (by contract) be paid as much as 30 days after the purchase. Your payment schedule should be written into your contract or on your invoice.
Some stores purchase work outright as inventory. After developing an ongoing relationship, the store may request a Net 30 invoice arrangement (i.e. payment will be made within 30 days after delivery).
What I am talking about here is overdue payments months after items are purchased. These delinquent galleries or stores are giving themselves an interest-free loan out of your money. I am sure that if a collector/buyer heard that they had paid a gallery or store for work and the artist was not paid in a timely manner, they would be embarrassed and appalled.
The real issue is what can artists do about this problem. Should you keep sending work to establishments that don't pay on time? Should we keep these secrets to ourselves?
Check references Before you send work to any gallery or establishment, check with some other artists or makers previously represented there. A few minutes of calling around can give you plenty of information to make a "yes" or "no" decision. Or if an ongoing gallery starts paying slower, check with other represented artists to see if they are having similar problems.
Contract Terms Your contract with the gallery should include terms of payment. The Professional Guidelines offers a sample Consignment Contract that can easily be modified to suit both parties and adapted to the situation. An accumulating penalty for late payment may also be specified.
Initial purchases from a store should be paid in full before merchandise is shipped. Develop a payment track record over several transactions and check credit references before agreeing to a NET 30 arrangement. (More information with a sample NET 30 Application will be posted next week.)
Documentation You may have to prove that the store received your work and that you are due payment (whether they sold it or lost it). Keep shipping receipts and Inventory Lists. Get signatures on receipts and save email acknowledgments. Take photos. If there is ever a dispute, documentation is better than "your word against theirs."
If the retail establishment becomes "slow" regarding payments, discuss this issue over the phone first. Find out about their reasons for late payment. Maybe you need to be more assertive (e.g. the squeaky wheel) and a better advocate for your business cash flow. (Note...I said assertive, not rude. There is never any reason to lose your temper or act unprofessionally.)
However, at some point, you may have to take action. You may decide that it is time to discontinue selling at this particular venue and request that all your work be returned. Potentially, if every artist and maker who had work at a gallery or store, politely asked for all the unsold work back, or refused to send additional merchandise, this retail location would have to change its practices or go out of business.
I know that we are all desperate to sell our work and that retail purchases are slow in this bad economy. But if payment is even slower, then you must take responsibility to make a decision and move on.
Another idea We can help each other by spreading the word about delinquent operators. We could share information about our own experiences and help inform other artists and makers and not let them fall victim to irresponsible venues.
While most galleries and stores are honest and pay promptly, maybe a few disorganized and delinquent accounts are the "bad apples". Until we openly discuss these problems, the bad apples will continue to plague our community. We can help each other with discourse and transparency to weed out the rotten few.
Artists, Collectors, and Galleries, this is a call to action!
Have any of you suffered from a similar situation? Would you be willing to share your story? Do you know a gallery that is paying artists chronically late? Are you holding a heavy secret to avoid embarrassment?
The time has come to create visibility and transparency for this issue. Can we maintain a list of good and bad venues like the Better Business Bureau? Let's be better advocates for ourselves. Tell your fellow artists out loud that you are having a problem with slow payment.
Write down your opinion and experience as a comment here below this post.
This post was updated on January 11, 2022.