Friday Tips: Gallery Insured?

I recently wrote a magazine column wherein I answer the following question about galleries insuring your work, and other issues. It reads as follows:

Q: All four galleries I’ve dealt with during my career have provided insurance. Is it commonplace for artists to carry insurance to cover their own paintings when they are being shown and sold in a gallery?

A: Well, it’s supposed to be commonplace for galleries to carry the insurance. But because the vast majority of galleries struggle in their early years—and many in their later years—they sometimes fail to take out insurance, or let the insurance lapse. How do I know? I had to do this when my gallery was young, back in ’96. I owed so much money everywhere, that I decided to let the insurance lapse while I caught up on rent, the phone bill, and marketing expenses. Sure enough, no sooner did the lapse occur than the gallery caught fire, and my business went on an entirely different trajectory—a good one in the end, but only because I refused to give up.

Upshot? If the gallery doesn’t carry insurance, which I consider to be a cost of doing business, then they shouldn’t carry your work. Nor should you insure it while it’s in their possession. That really ain’t your responsibility (although if they are uninsured, you certainly should be). Your first responsibility is to produce the best work you possibly can. Unfortunately, as with writing novels, that’s not always enough.

Q: I am currently talking to several art publishing companies regarding the possibility of converting some of my paintings into prints, and having their company market these to the public. My problem is that I’m ignorant of how all this works. So here are some basic questions:

Q1: Is an artist expected to sign an exclusive contract?

A1: Not each time. I advise that you try to avoid it, unless you sign such a lucrative deal that it’s worthwhile having an exclusive gig. Normally the first time out this isn’t done. Exclusivity, and lucrative contracts, tend to come with a successful track record.

Q2: What sort of royalty per item sold can I expect?

A2: The most I’ve heard of anyone negotiating is 20%. Most art publishing companies will try to get you to begin at 7%-10%. Whatever they try to get you to agree to, negotiate up.

Q3: What should I look for in distribution? Are these art publishers regional, national or international (United States, Britain, Canada, Australia)?

A3: There are all types. In the beginning, it’s simplest to stay with one that covers the entire U.S. and Canada. Often overseas sales are covered by a different contract. But if you must start with a regional publisher, that’s better than nothing.

Q4: Are there any legal experts in the field I can contact before signing a contract?

A5: A lawyer who specializes in copyright law would be your best bet. I advise that you go through the contract with one before signing; he/she may even be able to help you negotiate a better deal than you can on your own. I also advise that you land a reproduction agent in negotiating these details for you, if you can. However, since reproduction agents can be as tough to land as the literary variety, you’ll likely have to start out on your lonesome. Representation can come after some initial success.

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