The Artist Protection Act of 2009, introduced by D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh of Ward 3 and set to pass this Council session, seeks to guarantee the establishment of a legal contract between artists and art dealers who seek to sell their work, but the consequences for local art dealers remain unknown.
The act would require that every deal involving a piece of art have a written contract before the art is transferred, and would ensure that if art dealers are faced with credit issues or defaults, the artist would be guaranteed to get a set amount for their works.
After a Committee on Government Operations and the Environment meeting was held Sept. 23, many expect the council will vote on the legislation by the end of the year.
At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown, in a statement released on the D.C. Advocates for the Arts website, said the bill may be altered before the vote.
“As a result of the hearing, amendments may be offered to further clarify the intent of the bill, including adding language to expressly provide that the art dealer must compensate the artist for loss of or damage to a consigned work of art,” Brown said.
Some local Georgetown art galleries are unfamiliar with the pending Council legislation.
Dave Quammen, executive director of MOCA DC, a nonprofit art gallery located at on the C&O Canal, said he was not aware of the pending legislation, but he believed that it would resolve future conflicts.
When running his themed exhibits each month, Quammen allows artists to respond to a call for entries to show their artwork, and his gallery tries to open it up to artists who may not be showing their work in a mainstream commercial gallery. He uses an entry form that was crafted by a D.C. law firm, listing each of the party’s conditions, before the artist’s work is accepted.
Peter Nee, owner of P & Art Galleries at 31st and M Streets and a 34-year veteran of the business, was also unfamiliar with the pending legislation.
“What we do is pretty loose. We just buy [the pieces of art],” Nee said.
Students interested in art think that the bill may have positive effects, however.
“I have learned that sometimes artists shy away from galleries because of fear that they will lose money or tarnish their reputation if associated with a certain gallery. If this act remedies this situation, as residents in Georgetown, we may begin to see new work because artists feel more secure in being shown,” Caroline Gralton (COL ’11), president of GU Art Aficionados, said.
Gralton said that based on her personal experience, this type of legislation is not always necessary, as the artist’s rights are always considered the top priority.
“At the same time, it could be detrimental if gallery directors feel that they can no longer take the same risks or if this is a blow to their relationships with artists,” she added.
Georgetown artist Julien Isaacs (SFS ’12) is used to dealing with the particulars of exhibiting his art, and will be showing four of his pieces at popular Adams Morgan café Tryst this Thursday. In his experiences, most deals with art galleries have been informal and done via email, and this week’s exhibit at Tryst was conducted via an application and contract.
“Contracts can be efficient and help out. But they don’t allow creativity to flow as well. With walls around art, it can compromise creativity, but I’m for it [legislation for contracts] because it’s structured for artists,” he said.
Lindsey Fell, the manager in Cheh’s office, who also has her degree in art, said that the D.C. official code had originally been reformed in 2000, but that an artist in the District informed her that the 2000 alterations were less protective than the original system.
“One thing that managed to get left out [in the 2000 reform] was protection for artists,” Fell said.