Museums as a lever to improve the conditions of artists in the visual arts

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Museums as a lever to improve the conditions of artists in the visual arts

Photo: Valérian Mazataud Le Devoir Negotiations with major Quebec art museums will begin shortly .

The effects of the reform of the professional status of artists are increasingly apparent. We have talked a lot about writers since the adoption of Bill 35 last June. The changes are also major for artists in the arts and crafts and for visual artists. Le Devoirspoke with the Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec (RAAV) about this revival.

“Let's go! We reformed our bargaining committee! explains fiber artist Lise Létourneau, who is also a member of the RAAV board of directors. Notices to bargain have been mailed to a few broadcasters just recently, and RAAV is awaiting responses.

“We brought out our old papers”, that is to say those who were used during the negotiations, epic and having made a detour to the Supreme Court, for the establishment of a framework agreement between the RAAV, the Canadian Artists' Front (CARFAC) and the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), ratified in 2015. This first negotiation was possible because the NGC complies with the federal Status of the Artist Act — but not the Quebec museums. The overhaul of the provincial law now makes it possible to open the discussion with museums and presenters in the province.

“We are starting off exactly with the principles negotiated with the NGC. We already have the rates, we know what our requirements are,” explains Ms. Létourneau. For example ? “Pay artists also when they do their editing and for the preparation of exhibitions, including meetings or the filing of documents. The proposed fee schedule is detailed. We are ready to start negotiations. »

And who are these broadcasters on the other side of the table? “I don't want to say it, because it's not official. We'll give them time to answer us…” These are obviously the most important Quebec art museums.

Domino effect, from museums to artists< /h2>

“Our problem, analyzes Ms. Létourneau, is that the structures that link museums and exhibition or artist centers, such as the Société des musées du Québec (SMQ) or the Regroupement des centers self-managed artists of Quebec, do not have the power to negotiate for their members. »

“But we believe in the domino effect,” says the artist-negotiator. We tackle the biggest ones, and after we have passed the first two or three, we think that it will tumble and that we will then be able to sit down with the SMQ to find a way to discuss more generally. In other words, the SMQ could, by then, change its mandate to simplify the negotiations. This is what the RAAV wants.

But aren't museum contracts aimed at a very limited number of artists? “Indeed, there are not that many people exhibiting in a museum. We prefer to start with them, because they are beacons; afterwards, we will look at the centers for artists. We are targeting the big establishments, so that it pulls the conditions from the top. It is believed that the environment will then normalize itself. »

“There are a ton of exhibition centers in Quebec,” says Lise Létourneau. If I just look in my area, in Shefford and its surroundings, there are plenty of small municipal centers, for example, which are used to not paying the artists they exhibit. We believe that it will eventually percolate, from museums to then, that good practices will become normalized and that people will adopt them on their own. But it is clear for the RAAV, for example, that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts should pay more than an artist-run center.

We start with exactly the principles negotiated with the NGC. We already have the rates, we know what our requirements are.

— Lise Létourneau

How about galleries? “We have already signed standard contracts, in particular with the Association of Contemporary Art Galleries. That's been done for a long time, and it's been done in a very friendly way. We know that galleries are private companies and that we cannot go that far. We deal with contracts. These are business relationships, they are not the same thing at all. »

RAAV therefore does not anticipate needing a large trading budget. We will need to hire one person, more to track and monitor contracts, and compile statistical data. Only artists who have contracts with museums or distributors who have ratified the agreements must and will have to remit an association levy of 5% for members and 10% for non-members. “We're not going to increase our dues for that. Nor apply them to all of our members. »

Being a painter on Instagram

Another thing that, with the law, changes a lot for visual artists is “the notion of professionalism,” says Ms. Létourneau. The old law mainly based this definition on the recognition of peers, on the fact of having exhibited in recognized places, etc. In short, on criteria similar to those that determine professionalism among government funders. We were a little caught up with that, and that made a lot of categories of artists excluded.”

“There are young people, for example, who only sell through their websites or by exposing themselves on social media and keeping their workshops open. My neighbor works like that, explains Ms. Létourneau.

“She hardly exhibits anymore, because she thinks it's too much trouble compared to what it brings in, but she manages to sell a lot, to live well from her painting. She was one of those who were excluded before. The law now recognizes her as self-employed. »

And then ? RAAV intends to set up a pension fund for the artists it represents, consisting essentially of a contribution from presenters — an important point to be discussed during negotiations. To steer these, Ms. Létourneau went to seek out her partners during negotiations with the NGC: the sculptor Pierre Tessier, former president of RAAV and “official negotiator during the 10 years we had to fight against the NGC” , and former general manager Christian Bédard. Adding to this guard is artist Lana Greben, who is interested in digital aesthetics and has a law degree.

And a social safety net for visual artists? ” Yes. But we're going to let the first three years of negotiation pass, to see how it goes; because it's big to organize and we're too small. We will have to check, for that, if we can associate with the Union of artists. That's what we're aiming for, but we're giving ourselves time. We're not going to take too big a bite at first; It does nothing, it risks screwing up everything. To be continued, therefore, one step at a time.

A new subsidy for negotiations

The Ministry of Culture has introduced a new “Support measure for associations covered by the new Law on the professional status of artists “. This aims to financially support associations “for the establishment of a collective bargaining mechanism” or to “enrich their associative life by carrying out projects, networking, research and analysis as well as than organizational development”. Only one of these components may be supported in a fiscal year.

The program provides access to financial assistance representing up to 75% of expenses, up to a maximum of $50,000, provided that the applicant contributes 10% of the expenses, including 5% in cash. This support will be available until March 1, 2025.