Collecting art has become a million-dollar enterprise in New Zealand, but are too many of our visual artists getting only crumbs from the table?
A new discussion paper on a possible resale royalty right scheme for artworks resold on the secondary market has already set off a lively debate. As expected we are hearing strong views both for and against the introduction of this right.
At this stage, the Government does not have a firm position and is hoping the current publicity will help bring forward the full range of views by the June 22 deadline.
In releasing the paper, we are honouring a 2005 election undertaking to examine international developments relating to resale royalties for artists and their possible application to New Zealand.
It is worth keeping a few important things in mind. Overseas experience has shown a clear split between those for or against a resale royalty right. This experience also shows that these views are held across the arts spectrum - they are not necessarily divided into artists and key arts agencies on one side, and auction houses, art dealers and galleries on the other side.
The reality is that in New Zealand, most visual artists have to take on other work to survive. A cultural employment report based on the 2001 Census showed the median personal income (from all sources) for a visual artist in New Zealand was $15,900, compared to $27,700 for the general population.
When it comes to the proportion of their wages earned from royalties, visual artists are even worse off.
A study produced for the Australia Council for the Arts in 2003 revealed that only 2 per cent of their creative income came from royalties, compared to 18 per cent for writers and 22 per cent for composers.
Meanwhile total sales across our six main art auction houses have doubled over the past decade. Sales peaked at nearly $19.5 million in 2003. They have dropped to around $14 million for each of the past two years but there are predictions of an imminent surge.
Each time a work is resold, an auction house or dealer gallery typically takes around a third of the total sale price, sometimes more.
In comparison, it is proposed that a resale royalty right would provide the visual artist with a 5 per cent share of that amount.
A resale royalty right is designed to ensure an artist gets a fair share in terms of the economic returns they are able to derive from their work. A resale royalty right is, in effect, a variation of rights that already exist for other creators under copyright legislation. It is a variation that recognises the unique nature of visual art which does not derive added value from the production of multiple copies.
It is an economic right and provides an incentive to create and the ability to benefit from this creation. It is also a moral right and recognises the ongoing relationship between a creator and his or her work.
France has had a resale royalty right since 1920 and it is now common practice in some 50 countries throughout Europe and in Britain. A resale royalty right is also part of international copyright treaties such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, to which New Zealand is party.
When a resale royalty right was implemented in Britain last year, there was also a great deal of discussion.
A number of people thought it would depress the art market. To the contrary, art sales at British auction houses have surged towards new highs, with demand for contemporary work particularly strong.
Should a resale royalty right ever be introduced here, the Government wants to be sure it can work in an art market the size of New Zealand's and that it can deliver real benefits to visual artists.
The Government also wants to be sure a resale royalty right will not adversely affect the support and commitment of those who buy and sell the work of these visual artists.
The discussion paper released through the Ministry for Culture and Heritage takes into account local conditions and puts together a range of options for how a scheme might work in this country, should it be introduced.
It also looks at how resale royalties work overseas and looks at the variety of views that have been expressed.
Copies are available at www.mch.govt.nz/publications/resale-royalty/ or email email@example.com or phone (04) 499 4229.
* Judith Tizard is Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.