The Review of the Resale Royalty Scheme: or A classic case of what Niskanen spoke about.

That Government bureaucracies at times create ‘phantom employees’ to publicly argue  the ‘public’ interest-need for…. more bureaucrats, is a well known historical truth. What follows is what Paul Frijters called: A classic case of what Niskanen spoke about.

The review has finally received a lengthy submission that is very favorable to ARR and that actually wants ARR extended to as many sales as possible.This submission is by the Official publicly funded peak industry body for the visual arts: the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

Given that NAVA is almost totally (generously) funded by Government and has very few paid up members to worry about, it is not surprising that NAVA is keen on ever increasing compulsory administration of the independent art sector and is dismissive of the costs of ARR to artists. NAVA wants the ARR to be compulsory for all artists and it wants the ARR to apply to all sales. And this is what the funded sectors peak lobbyist has wanted for more than a decade.

This is NAVAs  most recent financial statement. NAVAs current total annual income is about $1,100,000 and $812,000 of that income is cash from Governments. (This does not include significant payments in kind granted to NAVA such as peppercorn rent for accommodation at Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo or payments for ‘services’ via other organisations). NAVA reports its member fee payments  as $165,757 however $104,313 of its total member fees are listed as “deferred” and this has been the case for years. Since 2006-7 NAVAs payments from government have increased from $300,000 to well over $800,000. At a time when publicly funded art galleries and the like, have been struggling to simply hold on to existing funding , NAVA has seen its funding more than double over the past 6 years. NAVA is a very special thing to the funded art sector; it is the officialy funded peak representation of the entire Visual Arts sector and “you will just have to get used to it”.1

Following is from a letter we sent to two of the leading Labor members of the House of Reps standing committee that reviewed the ARR Act in Feb 2009. The letter was about the deep conflicts of interest, moral hazard (and real malice) that lurked behind the lobbyists for their ARR scheme.

…By now the refusal by NAVA’s chief executive to heed warnings of the real risks to artists that the scheme entails, warnings coming from persons and organisations who have no involvement in the art resale industry, such as the respected William Wright AM (who resigned as a board member of NAVA over this) or Access Economics, has been so frequent as to be deliberate. NAVA frequently caricatures artists’ representative agents as ‘exploiters of vulnerable artists’.  These agents have a strong self-interest in protecting the sales incomes of artists because they are paid by artists out of the artists’ sales income (that is what the commission on sales of artwork is for).  NAVA by comparison has no direct interest in improving the sales incomes of artists at all.

The National Association for the Visual Arts submission to the 2020 Summit is revealing. At the end of a long dot-pointed list of recommendations aimed at increased funding of arts management there is this from p.4:

“Individual creators need to be able to maximise their income to ensure they can continue to practice.  A suite of initiatives need to occur, including: artists’ resale royalty scheme; ArtStart social security initiative; allocate $3 million per year for artists fees as proposed in NAVA’s research report into the payment of artists’ fees.”

Their conception of their artist-members economic interests are: the payment to artists of fees-for-service, social security payments and a scheme to pay artists a second time for art works sold through the private sector years ago, a scheme that would generate an “appropriate level of income for its administrative services”. The allocation of $3 million for artists fees would of course, be made to other arts organizations, which having extracted their administrative costs, would then be forwarded to artists for fees-for-service. Nowhere in the long list is there any mention of the sales of new art by living artists.

There is a real need for an effective government arts system and for arts organizations. Recently my wife, an art historian and writer, was invited by the WA arts organization Artsource to visit and write an article on WA artists for a national art magazine in order to help promote the artists it represents on a national stage. What really shocked me on meeting them was that they are an organization that is really committed to and effectively seeking payment for its artist members for the making of artworks!

The lack of interest in the arts by the previous government has allowed some ‘bad habits’ to become wide spread in the main government arts sector. The Government arts sector has developed such a widespread degree of circularity as to be like Narcissus and Echo, motionless and invisible; a hall of mirrors signifying nothing. The things that the royalty cannot do are far more important than what it can do. It cannot pay an artist for new work, nor can it help artists to survive the difficult years ahead.  It can only reward me a second time for artworks I made and was paid for years ago.

Parts II  & III of our review of the Review.

Our first Troppo article on ARR : With friends like this’: Labor policies and the commercial, independent visual arts sector

Ftn 1- the situation re peak Official Visual Arts industry representation gets that bit more bizarre when you realise that the recent reforms to the Australia Councils structures have abolished “Art-form” based boards such as the Visual Arts Board (VAB) as the basis for its funding programs. Mind you funding things that do not quite exist has long been a significant art-form in the sector.



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About john r walker

Have been exhibiting for 30 years . Utopia Art Sydney is my sole outlet. Apart from painting representations I have had a long interest in deep time , history in general and the representation of representation.
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10 years ago

Fascinating, and shocking, though perhaps one shouldn’t really be greatly suprised! Please keep this stuff coming, John.