Transcript of a Newslines Radio Broadcast
Broadcast date: 26 March“1 April 2012
Duration: 12 minutes
Presenter: Nathan Ramsay
Content: New initiatives are making Indigenous artists more aware of their rights.
Talent: John Oster, Indigenous Arts Code Limited
Patricia Adjei, Indigenous communications coordinator, Copyright Agency Limited
Zena Cumpston, artist and producer, Melbourne,VIC.

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, a weekly program produced by the Australian Government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Indigenous art is an important form of expression and cultural practice. It’s also contributing greatly to Australia’s national identity and our economy.

So how do we encourage fair and ethical practices in the commercial arts industry and make sure our artists know what their rights are?

Well recently the Australian Government has introduced a new Indigenous Art Commercial Code of Conduct to protect our artists from exploitation.

Newslines Radio’s Jeremy Geia took a look at how the new Indigenous Art Code is operating.

GEIA: The Indigenous Art Commercial Code of Conduct sets down clear standards for how dealers should treat artists and it provides a fair process for dealing with cases of unethical behaviour.

Artists and dealers can voluntarily sign up to the code to show they support ethical practices and once they sign up they become members of the Indigenous Art Code company, which is administering the code.

If dealers sign up to the code they can use a Code of Conduct logo at their gallery, for example, which lets consumers know that the artwork they are buying has been created and sold in a fair way.

John Oster is CEO of the Indigenous Art Code company which signs up members and manages the code.

OSTER: So the Indigenous Art Code is now six pages of principles and rules. Side by side with that is a company, a private company, Indigenous Art Code Limited, which has members who abide by the rules of the company.

First rule of the company is: operate accordingly to the code. So the company then has the right to exercise discipline on its members and if a complaint was made against one of its members and they were found to be in breach of the code, they would thereby be in breach of the company rules and the company would have the right to discipline.

GEIA: John Oster says the code of conduct is also influencing the way Indigenous artists are being dealt with, even when dealers have not signed up to the code.

OSTER: The code is only able to sanction its members. However, we’ve found on a number of situations that the fact that the code now exists with an important body of membership it carries some weight of influence. We are now able to go to non-members of the code and advocate on behalf of artists or someone who might have suffered at the hands of a dealer and we are able to bring the weight of public scrutiny if you like and we would say to that dealer, We know you are not a member of the code. However we have a mandate to pursue the rights of artists and we would like to know what you are going to do about this situation or this complaint, and you may wish to do something to repair the situation. And then we would bring public opinion or scrutiny to that situation.

GEIA: In another move to strengthen the position of artists, the Australian Government has also introduced a resale royalty scheme, which means visual artists can get a fairer share of profits when their art works are sold for the second time.

ADJEI: You know artists should receive economic benefits after their artworks have sold a second or third time and the value goes up. There should be money that goes back to the artists and their families. Over $455 thousand has been generated under the scheme and of that $455 thousand 64 per cent of it has gone to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, which is really great and that’s exactly why the scheme was set up: to hopefully to get economic benefits back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

PRESENTER: That was Torres Strait Islander Patricia Adjei, who’s the Indigenous communications coordinator with the Copyright Agency Limited, which is administering Australia’s new resale royalty scheme.

Australia’s resale royalty scheme program is based on a European model introduced in the 1920s in France and already it’s generated nearly half a million dollars in royalties for Australian artists since it started almost two years ago.

The good news is that more than 60 per cent of those resale royalties have gone to Indigenous artists or their families.

Newslines’ Jeremy Geia spoke with Patricia from the Copyright Agency about the scheme.

ADJEI: It’s there to bring back economic benefits for Indigenous artists so the scheme involves, when an artwork resells for over a thousand dollars, five per cent royalty will go to the artist. So we collect those royalties and on-pay it to artists. We get those royalties from gallery owners or auction houses, art dealers, remote community art centres. It is there to bring back some benefit to indigenous artists.

GEIA: Has it been well received? Have a lot of people signed up for it or people still looking at it?

ADJEI: Yeah it has been really well received. We’ve done a lot of promotion of the scheme. At the moment we have 6,000 artists who have signed up either through their individually or through their agent or art centre. We have gone out to the remote communities in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and also in regional and urban centres.

GEIA: How’s the resale royalty program been seen by art centres and galleries? I’m sure there would be some sort of resistance because there was some talk of being more paperwork here and there, but do you find that people are generally accepting and supportive of it?

ADJEI: Initially there was a bit of backlash because, you know, it’s a new scheme and everyone has to get used to it. Like, for example, when the GST was introduced there was backlash about that. But now most art-market professionals are complying with the scheme they’re very positive about it. The top 50 art-selling art-market professionals are registered and they are reporting, so we have a good relationship with a lot of galleries and auction houses, which is great.

GEIA: Trish, I’m just wondering about, I know that a lot of the art work goes up in value when someone passes away. So say I’m an artist and I that know my work may attract some big figures down the track and I want to put in my will or say to someone that my son will get the resale royalties or someone else in my family can get those resale royalties. Is it possible for me to do that?

ADJEI: Yeah definitely resale royalty is a special right that artists have. It lasts for 70 years after they pass away and it is something that artists can leave in their will for the beneficiaries.

We have quite a few beneficiaries signed up to the scheme so when their relative’s artworks are reselling then we pass on those royalties to those beneficiaries. We are also talking to different public trustees’ officers across the country on how to deal with what’s called intestate estates, so estates where there wasn’t a will but obviously these royalties pass onto those estates and they have to administer these monies and pass them onto beneficiaries of those estates.

I have travelled out to remote communities this year with the Arts Law Centre of Australia, which is a national community legal centre for the arts. They have a great wills-drafting project and they go out to communities and draft wills with artists at the art centres.

So that’s been a great way of promoting the scheme but also getting artists to have a will, because they have these really important rights, you know. They have copyright which lasts for 70 years after they pass away and now they have this new right: resale royalty.

PRESENTER: That was Patricia Adjei talking about Australia’s resale royalty scheme.

Earlier we talked about the Indigenous Art Code, which has been introduced to protect our artists. The code is supporting a new era, where Indigenous artists are more aware of their rights.

Newslines’ Jeremy Geia reports that building skills is also the aim of the Indigenous Arts Leadership Program.

GEIA: Australian company Wesfarmers and the National Gallery of Australia are teaming up to train people from around the nation through an arts leadership program.

The program, which is in its second year, is encouraging Indigenous people to get involved in working in the arts industry not just as artists.

There are few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working as professional curators or managers of arts institutes or organisations.

Zena Cumpston, a Barkandji woman who lives in Victoria, is passionate about changing that.

CUMPSTON: The most important thing I think is we really need to increase representation in terms of Indigenous people working in this sector. Some of the stats are really frightening. You’ve got 50 per cent of the artists in Australia who are Indigenous people and yet you’ve only got 16 professionals working in galleries and museums around the country. That’s not good enough.

[The] Indigenous perspective needs to be heard and the way that we do that is we need to get more people into the industry and that’s why this Wesfarmer’s leadership program is so brilliant, because they’re arming ten of us with not only heaps of skills and knowledge but we’ve now got a network.

Us then are going to keep in touch with each other and when we’re working in the industry we won’t be working in isolation, we’ll keep in touch and hopefully be able to share information and together encourage a lot more people to get into this industry.

It’s a brilliant industry. You don’t have to study to get into it, just being strong in your own culture is actually enough sometimes, like in terms of being ready to roll and work.

PRESENTER: Well, if you’re interested in training in the arts field check out our website at You’ll also find more information and links there about Australian Government support for artists, like through the art code or the new resale royalty program.

If you are an artist who creates paintings, ceramics, art jewellery, multimedia, sculptures, tapestry, photographs, limited edition prints, engravings, carvings, installations or video art you may be able to receive a resale royalty so check our website.

I’m Nathan Ramsay. Thanks for your company. Catch you next time.

Recognising the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts to communities and to the nation, the Australian Government is working to support skills development and creativity through the arts.

The Copyright Agency LimitedExternal site link is promoting the resale royalty schemeExternal site link, which is encouraging a greater flow of revenue to, and recognition of, visual artists.

To promote fair and ethical trading in the Indigenous arts industry the Government has introduced a voluntary, industry-led Indigenous Art Code.External site link

The National Gallery of Australia is a key partner in the Indigenous Arts Leadership program. This initiative aims to provide information and training to help Indigenous Australians enter the professional arts industry.

Supporting visual artists

The Australian Government provides programs to encourage Indigenous artists, art centres and art businesses including the following:

  • the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program, which supports art centres and allied industry organisations involved in the production, promotion and marketing of Indigenous visual art to build a stronger arts industry. The program also provides opportunities for art centre staff, board members and artists to develop professional skills and experience.
  • the Indigenous Employment Initiative, which supports over 300 jobs for Indigenous people in art centres.
  • the Visions of Australia program, which provides funding for the development and touring of exhibitions of Australian art and cultural material across the nation.
  • the Regional Arts Fund, which supports cultural development in regional, remote and isolated Australian communities and is delivered by the peak regional arts organisation in each state, and by arts departments in the territories.

Regional arts associations

With Government support a number of Indigenous associations are supporting the artists and art centres of their regions:

Working together for artists

To build a stronger Indigenous visual arts industry the Government is also supporting:

  • the Australia Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, which funds the development and promotion of traditional and contemporary arts practices and new forms of cultural expression by Indigenous artists in urban, regional and remote areas.
  • Artbank, which purchases contemporary Australian artworks “ particularly works by emerging artists “ and rents them to the wider public.
  • the Australia Business Arts Foundation,External site link which is encouraging collaboration between business and the arts around Australia. It is building a culture of private sector support for the arts and the capacity of artists and arts organisations to engage with the business sector.