November 2011 marked the first year of operation for the Indigenous Art Code.
The Code aims to encourage and enforce ethical practices by art dealers in their dealings with Indigenous artists, particularly vulnerable artists with limited English and limited business skills. It also aims to assist consumers to check that the artworks they buy have been produced and traded ethically, and to contribute to the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians more generally. It was one of the key recommendations from the 2007 Senate Committee Inquiry into the Indigenous visual arts and craft market, ‘Indigenous Art – securing the future’.
Under the Code, signatories must include certain terms in their agreements with artists. At the last AGM, there were changes made to the Constitution which included reduced requirements for written contracts. It seems that dealers now are not required to obtain a written agreement with an artist for sale of the artwork. This change has caused some concerns that the effectiveness of the code may be reduced.
The Code also covers respect for Indigenous cultural practices such as respecting sorry business, careful treatment of secret and sacred artefacts and attributing the story and language group of the artist to each artwork.
The Code is governed by a company set up for the purpose: Indigenous Art Code Limited (IartC). Its board includes Indigenous artists, arts administrators, gallery owners and art centre managers who are well-respected and have worked in the Indigenous arts industry for years, and is chaired by former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel QC. The CEO is John Oster, former CEO of Indigenous art centre umbrella organisation DESART.
As of November 2011, the total membership has grown to 184 with a number of important Government agencies signing up including the Western Australian and Northern Territory Departments as well as the Australia Council for the Arts. There are three classes of membership: art dealers, Indigenous artists and supporters. Copyright Agency has been a Code supporter member since mid 2011.
IartC has an Independent complaints panel of senior lawyers. In September, it worked with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission against a dealer misrepresenting an important NT Indigenous artist. IartC has also resolved a number of issues for artists.
This time next year will be a critical time for the Code, marking the end of the initial period of government endorsement and funding.
– Post by Trish Adjei, Copyright Agency