I am disgusted in our National Gallery. The gallery you might expect to be our nation’s strongest advocate for the rights of visual artists is opposed to fair treatment of Canadian visual creators to the extent that they have fought our advocates all the way to the Supreme Court. This is not our government fighting us; this is the leadership of the National Gallery.
Canadian Artists Representation/le Front des artistes Canadiens [CARFAC] and le Regroupment des artists en arts visuals du Quebec [RAAV] are the two organizations that have been working with Canadian public galleries to secure fair and reasonable exhibition fees for the artists the galleries show—these are galleries that do not sell work, often charge admission and exist only to show visual art.
In 1980, along with other nations, Canada signed a declaration of commitment to improve the financial situation of artists. Our government then passed The Status of the Artist Act (SAA) that allows professional arts organizations (CARFAC and RAAV for us) to negotiate collective agreements with federal institutions to cover things such as artists’ fees and working conditions.
Then, in 1988, our government added the exhibition rights to the Copyright Act giving artists the right to expect payment when their work is, “presented at a public exhibition, for a purpose other than sale or hire.” Consequently, the fair payment of artists’ exhibition fees has become standard professional practice in Canada.
CARFAC and RAAV began negotiations with the National Gallery in 2004. Discussions progressed for two years and then, in 2007, the Gallery ceased negotiations. They based their decision to conclude negotiations and oppose the fair payment of artist exhibition on a refusal to recognize CARFAC’s and RAAV’s right to negotiate for Canadian visual artists. They believe that there is a conflict between the objectives of the Copyright Act and the Status of the Artist Act.
In 2008, CARFAC filed a complaint with the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal (CAPPRT—sorry for all these acronyms). It is the body that oversees the SAA. That action led to unsuccessful mediation sessions that lasted for over a year. Finally, in 2012, the Tribunal found the Gallery guilty of bargaining in bad faith. The Gallery then asked for a judicial review in the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tribunal decision was overturned on a split vote of two to one.
Here’s what CARFAC has to say about the decision:
In essence, the National Gallery believes that the Copyright Act, which protects the rights of individual artists, trumps the Status of the Arts Act, which allows artists to organize collectively. They believe that because CARFAC and RAAV do not have copyright assignments from all individual Canadian artists, we do not have the right to negotiate minimum fees for their work.
The CARFAC explanation (above) successfully explains the legal basis of the National Gallery of Canada’s opposition to the payment of artists’ exhibition fees. But why, you might ask, is Canada’s foremost exhibition hall for visual artists so opposed to fair treatment of the artists they exploit to earn their visitor admission fees? (General admission is $12; seniors & students admission tickets cost $10; youth admissions are $6.)
The split decision is why CARFAC and RAAV appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to fight for our rights. I believe the Court may shame the Gallery in their ruling but to win CARFAC and RAAV need your help. Please visit the carfac.ca to donate specifying that your donation is to help fight the Supreme Court case against the National Gallery.