This first collaborative project was established to explore the current situation of how visual artists are contracted and remunerated for their work through out the broader Nordic region. Research was carried out to: collect data about the artist’s situation in different countries; compare working conditions; understand common issues; and discuss methodologies to combat problems.
With a pilot project such as this we soon became aware that we would not be able to solve problems immediately – some countries’ issues are more entrenched and complicated – so for some groups it was better to establish networks and collect information to enable progress, rather than try to create a specific draft contract agreement at this stage.
The project was initiated in September 2013 with representatives from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Scotland and Lithuania as the core group. At a later stage a secondary group were also invited to discussions, which included representatives from Germany, Switzerland, England, Slovakia and Latvia. In all, three workshop seminars were organised in Stockholm, with the second group introduced in the final session – in between workshops the groups gathered information and developed ideas in their own countries.
It has been an essential part of the process for the groups to have the support and advice of the MU model from The Swedish Artists National Organisation (KRO) & The Association of Swedish Craftsmen and Industrial Designers (KIF), as a focus learning tool for all discussions. KRO/KIF’s knowledge of both designing an appropriate system and working through the actual administration of that system in a national working environment, will save time when organisations seek to gain acceptance of agreements in other countries.
The reason why we chose the MU agreement as a starting model for discussion was because it created a legislated agreement, rather than a set of guidelines that could be overlooked in certain instances. Also, the MU agreement is embedded in a larger contract agreement that allows the issue of exhibition payment to be clearly placed alongside other important project requirements. Both enable the artist to start any project negotiation from a solid and professional base.
Our research has shown that the majority of visual artists exhibit without any payment whatsoever; on the contrary, they themselves often financially support exhibitions. Artists very often have to pay rent for a gallery space, even when the gallery invites the artist to exhibit. For most this is unsustainable: which means if we do not change the way we value and reward artists, we will lose the diversity that makes visual arts so economically and culturally valuable.
This project has enabled us to compare positive steps already taken in each country and has highlighted apparent difficulties. In some countries, there is a long way to go and in those instances, it is important to have the support of others who have progressed further – an understanding that needs to extend to the artist community, funders and galleries. We now understand that artist surveys need to be carried out in all countries to reveal current working conditions and assist future negotiations.