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No Insurance at an Exhibition....What Shall I Do?

A true story. 
I saw an announcement for an upcoming show with a great title at a very nice museum.

It sounds like a great opportunity -- until I read..."Please note that while the exhibition space is secure, the museum will not be providing insurance.  Return shipping costs must be covered by the artist..."

Draw a line in the sand

Huh? No insurance?
Makers and artists are asked to give so much, but to give up even on insurance?  Well, that is my professional line in the sand.

Then....a repeat situation.
Days later, another invitation for a show says, "Please be sure to take a close look at the bottom section of the document as it contains very important information regarding insurance and shipping. Please note that insurance and delivery (both ways) is the responsibility of the artist!"

What?  Again, no insurance, no shipping?

Draw a line in the sand for your principles

I am appalled, dumbfounded, and frankly very concerned. Is this a growing trend? Has insurance, the most basic protection for a participating maker, become optional?

Amateur exhibitions might not have insurance.  Professional exhibitions do. A local club or small group might not have insurance, but a major institutional exhibition should.

Three years ago I responded to a question on ASK Harriete, "What do you recommend if a show has no insurance?"  I said "no," an absolute and unconditional "no".

Draw a line in the sand

"Even if there are pedestals with vitrines, the work still has the highest risk of damage during installation of the show and when the show is being taken down."  Thirty-plus years of exhibiting my work have demonstrated this fact to me on too many occasions. Theft during the exhibition is another relevant issue.

We all hope that the insurance coverage isn't needed, but it is just this guarantee to the artist that raises professional exhibitions above the lower-level venues and events.  Participating artists are assured that their work will be protected with superior handling AND will have a "backup plan" in case of damage.

Sure, artists and makers can buy their own insurance, but insurance from the exhibition sponsor indicates that work will be displayed professionally and demonstrates motivation for the best handling possible.

The people organizing the show may have the best intentions, but this issue of no insurance is more than an erosion of standards. They are transferring onto the makers all of the risks and responsibilities of unpacking work, setting up and exhibiting work, taking down and repacking work, and shipping.  Although they will "do their best" -- without insurance, they are abdicating any and all liability and responsibility.  Something will happen.  Then the maker bears all the risk, yet has no control -- except to decline to participate.

Draw a line in the sand again and again

How can any organization that purports to support and advance the professional practices of artists, or makers
endorse an exhibition without insurance?  Where is the education and leadership that demonstrates the hard choices necessary as a community that represents artists and makers at the highest level?

These hard choices start with artists or makers. It starts with you. An individual can demonstrate leadership by refusing to participate in a show that does not measure up to their professional standards. 

Line in the sand with many hands

Draw your own line in the sand.
A polite letter or email stating the reasons why you can not participate in an exhibition or opportunity that does not meet professional standards is taking a stand for advocacy in your community.

This issue is not about one organization or one show. It is about every show. It is about every opportunity.

There are many resources to help guide every artist, maker, craftsperson, crafter, organization, or exhibition sponsor.

ASK Harriete regularly offers advice and opinions
about the best professional practices for artists and makers.

The Professional Guidelines offers several documents with information about exhibitions.

Exhibitions: Artist Checklist   This PDF document includes information and questions artists may want to ask the sponsor of any exhibition. Also includes Artist Responsibilities for an exhibition.

Exhibition Contract This document addresses noncommercial exhibitions where the main intent is not the sale of work but rather the showcasing of artwork for the purposes of education, information, or public consideration. Included is an overview detailing and explaining each clause of the contract and the multiple options offered.

Consignment Contract This document includes an Introduction, and Overview offering a complete explanation for each clause in the Consignment Contract with possible options for the artist and gallery. This is followed by a complete Consignment Contract that can be used in whole or part by artists and galleries to cover many issues involved in developing a good working relationship.

Juried Exhibitions  This document presents an ideal scenario for organizing a juried exhibition drawn from the collective experience of the Professional Guidelines Committee members. A well-organized exhibition benefits the sponsor, the artists, and the craft field at large. These guidelines are primarily intended for the sponsors of a juried exhibition: galleries, museums, schools, or other organizations. They are designed to enhance the organization's ability to conduct a successful juried exhibition and to clearly describe the sponsor’s and the juror’s responsibilities.

Draw a line in the sand for yourself and every artist "No insurance, no show" may seem easy to say, I understand.  Some will argue that a show without insurance is better than no show at all.  And I would agree that a local show where the artist is actively involved changes the scenario.  But a major institution or organization should adhere to and support the best professional practices.

We all lose if we continue to accept declining standards.  It is an issue that every artist, maker, and organization needs to address. Participation in shows without insurance endorse substandard professional practices.

What do you think?  Where would you draw your line in the sand?


P.S. This post was inspired by both personal and professional experiences. An update is posted on ASK Harriete titled Insurance at an Exhibition - An Update.

This post was updated on February 16, 2022.