Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You! Preventing Delinquent Payments
Help! My work’s been sold and I’m not being paid! What do I do? - a lawyer's answer

Good Galleries Gone Bad - 6 Steps to Take if Your Gallery is Not Paying You on Time by Victoria Lansford

In today's post Victoria Lansford offers us six steps to take if your gallery is not paying on time. With this tough economy, early intervention may prevent work from disappearing and the additional loss of potential revenue. We need to work together with artists, galleries, and the entire arts community. Let's not let a few bad apples influence the entire marketplace. 

Previous posts in this series include:

Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You by Victoria Lansford,

Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You by Jen Townsend

Good Galleries Gone Bad - The Saga Continues...Time to Sue - from Victoria Lansford

Good Galleries Gone Bad - Don't Let This Happen to You! Prevent Delinquent Payments

Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Victoria Lansford in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.

Portrait of Victoria Lansford FROM THE PEN OF VICTORIA Lansford:
If this "Good Gallery Gone Bad" happens to you:

1.  Get your work out of there!  If they won't send it back, find someone in the area (a friend, a friend of a friend, etc.) who can pick it up for you.  Provide him/her with a letter signed by you, stating that she/he is acting as your agent and has the authority to remove your work and an inventory list of your work.  Let the person know the gallery's store hours then let the visit be a complete surprise.  Consignment means that the artist owns the work until it is sold.  You or your agent are merely removing what is yours.  If you can't find someone to pick up the work and can't go yourself, keep calling and emailing.  If they don't return it, it's probably a red flag that they have sold part or all of it and aren't paying you for it.

Dollars in hand 2.  Remember, It's your money!!!  Do not give up too easily.  Yes, pursuing money you are owed can be time-consuming and costly, so were the labor and materials that you put into the work for which you have not been paid.  Less ethical people tend to do what they know they can get away with, so if an owner owes you money and believes that you won't pursue getting paid, you could easily end up at the bottom of a long list of creditors and never see a dime.  

3.  Not just any type of lawyer will do.  You need one with experience in contract law.  Many lawyers will give a free initial phone consultation, so you can find out if they can help.  Get your paperwork together and give a concise account of what happened.  If legal help is too expensive, most states have "Lawyers for the Arts" type organizations, which will work pro-bono or on a sliding scale.
4.  Keep up the phone calls, letters, and emails! 
This is one time when being a nuisance isn't just OK; it's necessary. 

5.  Breathe!  You may be victimized, but you don't have to be a victim.  By not giving up, you are doing your part to help keep the system safe and honest for yourself and your community.  You may or may not eventually get paid, but you will know that you didn't go down without a fight and may find that your future dealings with consigning with galleries are a more business-like and professional experience.

6.  Consider creating a piece or series inspired by your experience.  I don't mean to make light of the situation by suggesting that you turn lemons into the proverbial lemonade.  Artists, who have work stolen sometimes have trouble with "artist's block" afterward.  Consciously working through your frustrations by doing what you love may have a cathartic effect.  Who knows?  If you sell the work, you could at least get paid for some of your frustration.

Eye of the Beholder Pin © 2009
Recycled tin cans, sterling silver rivets,
pin stem
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman


I particularly like Step 1. and Step 2.  Go ahead, take your work out of the gallery if they are not paying on time. Every story that I have ever heard about poor payment or no payment started with late payment. This is your warning sign, like a sore throat, you know trouble may be coming.

Chasing Payment Over the Telephone Brooch by Harriete Estel Berman has a sterling silver chasing hammer over telephone as a pun.
  Chasing Payment Over the Telephone
  Pin © 2010 Harriete Estel Berman
  Recycled tin cans, sterling rivets and
  chasing hammer, plastic ring.

Are you in business to loan money? Do you really think the situation will change if you continue to leave your work at the gallery? What motivation do these Good Galleries Gone Bad have to change? Absolutely none if the artists continue to avoid looking into a bad situation and take no action.

Stand up and be counted as an artist who is no longer is willing to act like a doormat and be stepped on.

Your professional behavior goes in all directions. Act like a professional in every aspect of your business. The Professional Guidelines offers 19 documents to assist and standardize professional practices in the arts and crafts community. Use this information to improve your artistic success. Let me know what topics would be helpful to you.


This post was updated on January 18, 2022.