Cash, credit or in-kind? - Art Collector

Issue 50, October - December 2009

No matter what was included in the recently completed Aboriginal Art Code of Conduct it was bound to be a controversial document. A case in point is the provision for non-cash payment of artists by dealers. Given that the history of payment in kind – including the swapping of artworks for second-hand cars and alcohol – has sometimes been one of exploitation, Carrie Miller asked Lydia Miller from the Australia Council, which was responsible for managing the development of the code, to explain the decision to allow for non-cash payment. One of Australia’s leading art experts, Michael Reid, takes issue with the provision.

Lydia Miller
Executive Director of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Arts, Australia Council

We recognise that non-cash payment in some cases across this country is preferable by artists. This is especially so in areas where artists do not have access to material goods that are afforded in other regions of the country. And in their relationship with their dealer they will request that these items are provided as part of the payment package. So what we’ve done in the code is that … in regards to non-cash payments we have stipulated that dealers are asked to communicate to artists what the value of an artwork is and should that artist request that payment be made up of other goods – and they can include whitegoods etc – then that value must be stated as part of the payment schedule given to the artist. It’s about transparency and it’s about accountability. And in that, dealers must provide, should they be called upon to provide, evidence of the value of that particular good.

An artist can call them to account; another dealer can call them to account. If a dealer is a co-signatory, because they are agreeing to comply with a code of standards, if it is found that when a complaint is raised that it is found to be correct, the dealer must provide evidence that showed that they acted in accordance with the code. If the scenario arose that they provided a non-cash good and that they misled or engaged in deceptive conduct about the value of that good, not only have they breached the code, but it’s also breached the Trade Practices Act.

Michael Reid
Director, Michael Reid at Elizabeth Bay

Payments to artists should only be by way of cheque, electronic transfer or cash. These are all legal tender. This is in line with best international practice for all artists worldwide, and any one of these methods of payment would be way more transparent than all parties knowing the value of a 10-year-old Holden Commodore.

To say that Indigenous artists cannot purchase cars, with their own money, because they have no access to car dealers is laughable in the extreme. Are proponents of this section of the code telling me that artists never go to major towns? Is not Alice Springs one of the largest selling centres for four-wheel drive cars in the world?