When Derrald Taylor sells one of his sculptures to a gallery, he knows he is bound to see it resold for many times the amount they offered him.
It is an unfortunate reality for the artist Inuvialuk of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, who now resides in Yellowknife, and for many other artists across the country: as it stands, there is nothing to stop art buyers from reselling works. Northern art with a big profit.
“I have a family with kids … and I have to pay the bills. I just have to take what I can get,” said Taylor, who has been carving since the 1970s and learned the trade from her father. “This is all I’ve done in the last few years.”
Whatever the price he gets from that initial sale is, currently, all the money he will receive from his art, although that could change if the federal government reforms Canadian copyright law to give artists a reduction in resales.
Taylor recalls selling a couple of the sculptures for under $ 2,000, only to accidentally discover that the gallery resold them on eBay for $ 8,000 each.
“We ask the price we get,” he said.
“I couldn’t do anything because I already sold it to him; I accepted the price.”
Getting the royalties from resales would be like a “Christmas present,” Taylor said.
“It will make artists feel much better about the work they do. And at least let us know the price of what they sell them for, because they are silent, they wouldn’t tell us,” he said.
Resale rights on the horizon
In December 2021, Federal Minister of Innovation François-Philippe Champagne received a mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that included a directive to amend Canada’s Copyright Act to allow resale rights for artists.
Work is underway for the revision of the act, even if it has not yet reached the House of Commons. In August, Champagne’s office told The Canadian Press that resale rights are “an important step towards improving economic conditions for artists in Canada.”
Proponents hope that the right of resale means that artists or their properties will receive five percent of the resales if their work is sold through an auction or gallery.
For Theresie Tungilik, a Rankin Inlet artist who is part of the Canadian Artists Representation Le Front Des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC), it would be a vital and long overdue change.
“We’ve been working hard for many years to make artists’ resale rights law in Canada. We haven’t been successful for many years, but when you want something tough enough, keep doing it,” he said.
“It is in my heart to make sure that our artists in Nunavut and the nation are treated equally as businessmen.”
He pointed to the late Kenojuak Ashevak, an Inuk artist who originally sold his now famous Enchanted Owl artwork for $ 50 in the 1960s. In 2018, that work of art was resold for a record $ 216,000, but its ownership was not cut.
“Many of our artists live in extreme poverty, and everything that comes back to them is of great help,” said Tungilik. “It is a right that we feel we must have as artists”.
A 2016 federal report on the Inuit art economy found that there are thousands of Inuit artists in Canada creating works of art worth tens of millions of dollars. Yet Inuit artists who produce visual arts and crafts were earning around $ 12 an hour after expenses at the time of that report and had an average income of $ 25,000 per year.
Level the playing field
The federal move to introduce resale rights also came after years of advocating for Senator Patricia Bovey, of Manitoba, who has worked in the arts for more than five decades.
“Canada has been lagging behind in this for years,” he explained, adding that it is a measure that France has taken for a century and that a dozen other countries have adopted as well.
“In the Senate, when we did it [a] cultural diplomacy study a few years ago, this emerged as a major problem and meant that Canadian artists, with their work overseas, weren’t playing on an au pair playing field. “
But if Bovey gets his way, the copyright reforms won’t end there. He also wants to see some rules being introduced to protect the integrity of indigenous artwork given the growing amount of counterfeits out there.
He pointed to examples of mahogany totem poles, presumably from the BC rainforests, where mahogany trees typically don’t grow.
“The work was faked,” he said. “Honestly, artists … don’t have the means to legally fight it.”
Bovey said he wants to see a legal fund set up, or legal recourse granted, for artists to pursue counterfeiters.