Skip to Content

Developing Best Practices for Canadian Visual Art

Have you ever received a contract from a gallery on the night of an opening, or not at all? Have you ever been frustrated with a dealer who avoided setting a payment schedule for sales? Have you ever been unsure if was the gallery’s responsibility or your own to cover insurance for your artworks when exhibited?

If these kinds of questions are familiar to you – you are not alone. Most artists engage in short-term contracts and working conditions vary every time they take on a new project. Misunderstandings between galleries and artists are common, particularly when a written agreement is not used. Sometimes one or both parties are left wondering what their rights and responsibilities are.

To make working relationships more understandable for artists, CARFAC has developed contract templates and advisory notes on a number of topics, such as working on public art commissions, working with public galleries and dealers, and understanding copyright. While these documents help you to understanding your rights as an artist, we have been working on a set of guidelines for best practices for the visual arts sector as a whole. These guidelines will have wider community input and endorsement – not only from artists, but also from public and private galleries, media arts centres, and government. We hope that these guidelines will encourage respectful and healthy relationships between creators and producers.

In Canada, other types of artists’ associations have already developed guidelines for best practices. The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists (CADA) has prepared the Professional Standards for Dance (PSD) document of guidelines for negotiating work agreements. The PSD provides recommendations on hours of work, fee standards and working conditions. It also outlines working relationships between dancers, choreographers, and producers/presenters. You can find it on CADA’s website:
Internationally, similar projects have existed for ten years, primarily in the UK and Australia. These practical documents are often called “codes of practice”, “codes of ethics”, or “best practices”. In England, a-n the Artists’ Information Company (an artists’ association similar to CARFAC), was commissioned by Arts Council England in 2003 to research and publish a Code of Practice for the Visual Arts. This Code takes commonly-accepted principles of good practice and demonstrates why and how they should be applied by artists and organizations. A code is also being researched and prepared in Ireland, by Visual Artists Ireland.

At the Visual Arts Summit in Ottawa in November of 2007, the Australian National Association for the Visual Arts, (NAVA) gave a presentation on their “Codes of Best Practice” and its applications. NAVA’s Code is the most comprehensive of its kind, providing practical and ethical guidelines for: Exhibiting, Selling and Collecting Art and Craft; Commissioning; Residencies and Workshops; Competitions, Prizes, Awards and Fundraising Exhibitions; Fees and Wages; Copyright, Moral Rights, Resale Royalty, Equal Opportunity and Restrictions on Freedom of Expression; and Tax, Insurance and Occupational Health and Safety.

While the UK Codes are focused on clarifying relationships between artists and presenters, NAVA’s Code covers working conditions for the entire sector. For example, the chapter on fees not only includes wage recommendations for artists’ fees but also new media fees, writers’ fees, independent curators’ fees, teaching rates of pay, and arts administrator salaries. Both are interesting models in their own right.

In 2007, CARFAC Saskatchewan to develop a provincial guide for best practices in the visual arts. The project has brought together artists and presenters to establish industry standards in an atmosphere of mutual respect and agreement. The resulting best practices standards provide guidance in areas where regulation and agreements do not exist. Ultimately, this project will provide a basis for the future development of policy and legislation.

NAVA has been serving as an advisor for this project. Other important stakeholder partnerships have been cultivated with local organizations. As a result, the series of standards that have been developed have been endorsed by:

– The Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils
– The Saskatchewan Arts Alliance
– The Saskatchewan Professional Art Galleries Association
– The Museums Association of Saskatchewan
– CARFAC Saskatchewan Visual Artists
– The Saskatchewan Cultural Industries Development Council
– The Saskatchewan Arts Board
– The Saskatchewan Craft Council
– SaskCulture

The best practices standards developed thus far in Saskatchewan outline relationships between commercial galleries and artists, relationships between public galleries and artists, the organization of public art commissions, the organization of juried group exhibitions, and the use of an artist’s work for fundraising purposes.

Community consultations were recently conducted to develop Industry Standards for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Art. These consultations are building on the work underway in Australia to develop Indigenous protocols. They addressed important issues specific to Aboriginal art practice in Saskatchewan such as copyright, cultural exchange, marketing and the diversity of art practice in Saskatchewan’s First Nation and Métis communities.

Developing these guidelines in Saskatchewan will inform other developments country-wide by the national Visual Arts Alliance. It is also starting to build elsewhere at the regional level. In Quebec, our partner, RAAV is collaborating on a Code of Best Practices project with the Quebec Craft Council (CMAQ), the City of Montreal and the Arts Council of Montreal.

The Code’s purpose is to promote fair relationships between creators and presenters in the Montreal area. It will include basic guidelines on contracts, acquisition policies, the development of exhibition proposals, health and safety standards during exhibitions, and conflict resolution. This important educational tool for Montreal’s artists, presenters, and political leaders should be available sometime in 2010. Working in tandem with this project, RAAV has collaborated with the Association of Contemporary Art Galleries (AGAC) to prepare a model contract. December should see the completion of a solid contract form that will allow for an improved balance between the interests of artists and galleries.

By April Britski, CARFAC National Executive Director
With excerpts from CARFAC Saskatchewan’s Best Practices website.

For further details about the project in Saskatchewan or to view the best practices guideline standards, go to: For details on template artist contracts and our advisory notes, contact your regional CARFAC office.