For the past two weeks, ASK Harriete featured a series of posts about galleries that did not pay the artists for work that was sold. These posts were only possible because Victoria Lansford was brave enough to speak about her experiences and be a voice for change.
In the past, many people have told me about their problems with either late payment or no payment, but only a few have been brave enough to publicly discuss the problem. While a late payment or delinquent payment is not a new problem, I wonder why so few people are willing to address these issues publicly. I asked Victoria if she thinks people are afraid of repercussions or think that galleries won't want to work with them if they go public about delinquent payment issues.
Victoria Lansford said, "...from my experience, peoples' fears are probably unwarranted. I've had lots of feedback from people emailing me about other matters and praising the posts. Artwork sales have suddenly picked back up again since the crash of 2008, so no problem there. Galleries with which I have regular contact have either said something positive, "so sorry you've been through that," or nothing at all.
Today I received a call from a supplier who wants to carry my publications and tools. The owner said he Google-ed me to check out my reputation, and very quickly found the blog ASK Harriete. We had a nice discussion about the challenges of operating an art business. I certainly haven't been blackballed as some kind of trouble maker, and if there are businesses out there that think that, they're probably ones that I never want to deal with anyway!
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak out in the best venue to be heard and make a difference!
As I said, problems with delinquent payment are not a new issue, but the weak economy is making the problem worse. Many comments to this series (on Delinquent Payment Issues and the previous series with Boris Bally) wonder why there isn't a Better Business Bureau/service/review website for evaluating galleries.
Yes, that would be great, if you have ideas on how to make this happen, let's hear it, but for the most part, it is a huge project requiring validation of the facts and liability issues. While my dream would be for something like this to come to fruition, change will not come from enforcement or an official website.
The first level of responsibility is for artists to speak up about the problem. The change will come with visibility and discussion. It doesn't have to be on ASK Harriete. It can be on your own blog, your own website, or a social networking site like Facebook or Crafthaus.
Why are artists so unwilling to speak up? It is simply the natural discomfort that keeps this issue hidden out of view. I am fairly certain that a collector/purchaser who bought your work would be appalled if they learned that the artist had not been paid. It is certainly not your fault and nothing to be ashamed of.
Generating public awareness about this issue is the only way the current state of affairs will change. It really doesn’t matter if the gallery did this on purpose or simply “forgot” to pay you. If you have spoken to them about late payment, and the check is not in your bank account, it is a problem. What about the galleries that don’t keep accurate inventory? This is their business. This is why they are paid the other 50% on each purchase.
If a gallery or store can justify its position about this issue, I want to hear it. So do the artists they represent.
If a gallery is having problems with their cash flow, then they need a loan from their bank. Artists are not banks. Sold work means the artist must be paid in a timely manner.
What can artists do?
Tell your friends and fellow artists if you are having a problem. Contact the other artists represented by the gallery. See if they are having similar problems.
What are you afraid of?
Are you afraid that if you complain they will never sell your work at that gallery/store again? Why do you want to leave your work at a business that does not treat your business relationship responsibly? Why do you leave your work at a gallery/store that is having obvious financial difficulties? Time to remove your work, politely and professionally, and move on. A change in our behavior also means that the “bad galleries” will either go out of business or change.
Are you afraid that if you go public with delinquent payment issues that new galleries will not take your work?
Good galleries have nothing to fear, they have no concern.
Good galleries pay on time and keep accurate inventory records, they are not a party to any delinquent payment issue. Good galleries should be applauded for this standard of professionalism. This should be the norm.
I think that this issue surrounding delinquent payments in the arts community is similar to every other political issue that ever needed changing… whether it was segregation, spousal abuse, gay rights, and others. The point isn’t to compare whether those issues are more serious or less important. The issue is that until artists are willing to speak openly about the topic, nothing will change.
If the “bad galleries” go out of business, it just means more business for the good galleries that respect artists, pay promptly, and keep accurate inventory records.
It is time for change…not only is it time for a change, but the internet can also make this discussion public. The voice of the artists needs to be a voice for change.
This post was updated on January 18, 2022.