Canada's Inuit Artists Take Another Hit

Canada's Inuit Artists Take Another Hit
(Annie Pootoogook Sobey Awards 2006 Courtesy the artist and John and Joyce Price)

After ARTINFO Canada's recent reporting on Annie Pootoogook, the media frenzy underscored her status as Canada's eminent Canadian Inuit artist in trouble. Unfortunately, news today only solidified the point:  it was announced yesterday that Inuit artists will miss-out on profits made on their work. Joyner Waddington’s and Walkers auction made the announcement, today.

The Canadian and Quebec associations of visual artists (CARFAC & RAAV) have requested that government address this discrepancy by bringing the Artist’s Resale Right to Canada.   

The Artist’s Resale Right allows visual artists to share in the profits being made from their work on future sales. It is common for art to be resold at higher prices, as the reputation of the artist grows. For example, a piece by the late Joe Talirunili sold in 2006 for $278,500. A similar piece is expected to sell for between $100,000 and $150,000 at Waddingtons’s on Sunday. It is estimated that both piece would have been purchased directly from the artist at for about $400-600 when they were originally sold in the 1970’s. 
In addition, eight pieces by one of Nunavut's most famous artists, Kenojuak Ashevak, are being offered for sale at the Waddington's November auction of Inuit art. "Enchanted Owl", one of her most well known images, is estimated to sell for between $25,000 and $30,000. In November 2011, two of her prints were sold at auction for a total of $29,620. If Canada had an Artist’s Resale Right of 5%, she would have received $1,481 from that sale.

“I would like the idea of the Artist’s Resale Right,” said Ashevak.  “It would be so much better; those artists would benefit more and get more out of their work.” 
The Canadian art market is growing, and auction sales break new records every year. In 2010, an economic impact study of Nunavut arts and crafts estimated that $52 million is spent per year on Inuit art from Nunavut. Inuit artists are missing out on the tremendous profits being made on their work in the secondary market.  The value of Inuit art, sold in Canada and abroad, continues to increase, and without the ARR, artists do not benefit from those sales. 

In January, the Government of Nunavut added their support to the Artist’s Resale Right. “Inuit artists have brought their vision of the world to an international audience, and built an economic sector that creates jobs and contributes tens of millions of dollars every year to Nunavut’s economy,” said, Minister of Economic Development & Transportation, Peter Taptuna. “Today, we add our voice to support Artist’s Resale Rights and encourage Canada to address this critical piece of legislation.” 

The Artist’s Resale Right is not a new concept. CARFAC and RAAV have based their proposal on the experience of how it has been applied elsewhere. The law was first introduced in France in 1920, and has since been legislated in 59 countries world-wide, including the entire European Union, and more recently, in Australia. Australia has had an ARR since 2010, and in two years, more than $600,000 in royalties have been paid to more than 380 artists, over 60% of whom are Indigenous. The lowest royalty paid in Australia so far has been $50, while the highest amount paid was $40,000.   
CARFAC and RAAV continue to meet with members of Parliament in an effort to have the Artist’s Resale Right added to the Copyright Act. The reception continues to be positive but they are still waiting for a commitment on the part of the government.