Sunday, March 9, 2008

Getting a gallery to pay an Artist

Having run an independent stand-alone gallery for 13 years and being an artist for 19 years gives me a different perspective on gallery-artist relations. To be sure running a gallery is fraught with joy and problems. The joy comes from helping a client step up, and buy a better artwork that the client will enjoy for a longer time. The joy of discovering a new artist and promoting him/her. The inner delight knowing that many people covet what you do and know in their heart of hearts that they could do it better – if they did not have kids, or a mortgage, or had more savings, or an understanding spouse.

The difficulties come in a lot of the time in the customer service area – sometimes with customers (kind of unusual) and artists – not unusual at all. Customer difficulties are always resolved quickly since the gallery wants the clients money and satisfaction. Without either the client’s money or satisfaction, a gallery owner can’t meet his bills. If the client is truly unhappy, he/she will badmouth the gallery to all their friends. Very bad for business.

Artists are a different story. Most artists put their work on consignment – meaning the gallery owner shows the work, sells the work, collects the money, and then the artist gets paid usually 15, 30, 45 or 60 days after the sale.

The artist is somewhat dependent on the gallery owner for his livelihood. If the gallery owner sells work, the artist can more easily pay their bills. If the gallery owner sells work and has tough economic times, the artist will have trouble paying his bills since the gallery owner has the money and his needs come first (in his mind). This creates a difficult situation for the artist, how hard do you push the gallery owner to pay what is rightly due the artist? A consideration – does the artist want to continue with this gallery? Have they worked well together in the past? Is this a momentary thing?

The thing for an artist to remember is that the gallery owner has collected money on your work. He is paying someone – just not you. You, as an artist need to change the dynamic so that you are paid first. If after several phonecalls, faxes, and emails that are all ignored; send a demand letter for payment.

A demand letter basically states that you are owed money. State the date of the transaction, the financial terms agreed to, and also when you expect to receive payment before taking other action. Send the letter by US Mail registered return receipt. This is the first step in showing that you have an official record of asking for the money. You need to keep a paper trail to document what your actions are in case you need to file suit in court. This means any phonecalls before and after the demand letter get written in a log with date, time and what was discussed. Same with faxes and emails in addition to keeping a copy of what was sent. If there is still no response after about 7 days after receipt of the return receipt – contact a lawyer to send a letter on his stationary for the money to the gallery owner. That is a great tactic and usually will cost under $100. Most people do not like getting letters from lawyers and will send the money post haste.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or pretend to be. A lawyer should be consulted to make sure of any and all of your rights as being owed money.

copyright 2008 Carl Wright

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