Making a living as a professional or part-time artist in Canberra is extremely difficult. Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, and by virtue of its size, Canberra does not have many corporate or private collectors with the funds available to buy artistic works on any scale. The Capital Arts’ Patron Organisation and the national institutions located in Canberra are the most prominent providers alongside ACT Government funding.
The costs for artists exhibiting in privately-owned, commercial and community art galleries has been steadily increasing year after year. The fees charged for hiring a gallery space to exhibit are broadly in the order of $700-$1000+ for 2-3 weeks and the commission paid to the gallery on sales now varies between 40% to 60% plus 10% GST. When the costs of invitations, advertising and exhibition openings are added to the end total along with art materials, time and labour then the asking price for original artworks becomes higher than most people can afford to pay.
An artist selling a $1000 artwork often makes only $100-$200 after all costs are taken into account. Unfortunately, many artists’ heavily discount the time and labour component to moderate the higher asking prices when selling via galleries. It is easy to see why joint exhibitions with several artists taking part in the one exhibition have become popular in an attempt to defray the significant costs associated with selling art. The problem with group exhibitions is that each artist can display only a few works.
Initially, online gallery sales via websites like Blue Thumb provided some relief but their increasing sale commissions, delivery fees and insurance costs are once again eating into artist’s income. The average annual income for artists in Australia over the last decade has been quoted by the National Association for Visual Artists (NAVA) as between $7,600 and $10,000.
As soon as the subject of artists and art funding is raised in discussion forums several issues dominate. Firstly, why should artist’s income be subsidised by a program of government grants. Second, community arts organisations should be self-supporting after the initial grant funding. Third, why should government spend taxpayer’s money on community artworks commissioned for the cityscape.
Maryann Mussared writes:
The security of funding for arts infrastructure, arts organisations and artists in Canberra has always been variable. Most agree there are few votes in the arts and the Minister for the Arts unfortunately didn’t get enough votes to keep his seat. The arts community now has as its minister a novice MLA, who has been burdened with a number of responsibilities such as the role of Attorney-General.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize the arts will probably remain stuck on the back seat for some time to come. So what else could be done to ensure that the arts remains an important and relevant part of everyday life?
Depending on the year and the government policy of the month, the variability of limited arts funding in the ACT is volatile and frequently oscillates between funding to individuals for specific projects, ongoing support for arts facilities/organisations or expenditure on community artworks. This rotational funding leaves each sector starved for funding during the lean years when they are out of favour.
If the many individual artists in Canberra are to be given an opportunity to thrive, then maybe some initial government funding should be directed towards a Canberra Community Art Market which could over time become fully self-funded by sales to locals and interstate visitors. There are outdoor art markets around the world but given Canberra’s weather an indoor venue would be advantageous. There is the also the possibility that an existing community venue would be interested in taking on the concept. Location would be a major factor in encouraging both visits and sales so an urban fringe address would not fly.
Canberra’s artists would each supply a number of suitable artworks on consignment for exhibition over several months in the large display space. The indoor art market could be open on weekends but preferably over 6-7 trading days. When an artwork is sold it would be replaced with another from the same artist. Commission rates would be kept low by volume sales. Over time the market would become the go to exhibition space for Canberrans and visitors wanting to buy a broad range of local art at affordable prices. Participating artists would also agree to assist in a rotating roster to keep costs down while a full-time manager runs the space. The continuous turnover of artworks and reasonable prices should encourage people to revisit the market more often.
The market concept would allow local artists to continue creating new works while their art is on public display, participate from time to time in selling their art and especially provide equitable access for all local artists to a major gallery-sized marketplace that returns income back to the artists. This proposal would reduce the need for individual government funding to individual artists thus freeing-up money for other artistic funding.