Law Online: Artquest

From April 2003, the Artlaw articles published in this column over the past 26 years will be available online at Artquest was established in December 2001 to provide advice and information to London’s professional visual artists and craftspeople. It does so in four ways: through its website designed with artists chiefly in mind; a complementary telephone and email helpline responding to specific queries; a face-to-face advice service at its central London office, and at selected locations elsewhere in London, including bookable one-to-one sessions with specialist advisors and a programme of group training events and seminars, often in partnership with other arts organisations. All these services are provided free at the point of delivery.

Artquest is financially supported by London Arts (now the London office of the Arts Council of England) and the London Institute (the umbrella organisation of London’s main art and design schools comprising Chelsea, Camberwell, London College of Printing, Central Saint Martins, and the London College of Fashion). Advice and information are tailored to professional artists’ needs at all stages of their careers, and cover all areas of practice including painting, sculpture, installation, printmaking, applied arts, photography, digital art, live art, film and video. The website provides information, contact details and links to other organisations offering relevant advice or services to artists – financial, legal, educational, training and business issues.

The genesis of Artquest lies in several research studies commissioned by London Arts, including a comprehensive consultation exercise which highlighted the unmet needs for which Artquest now makes provision. This research revealed that artists’ needs for advice and information were uneven: at times needs can be intensive (say, for the development of a new type of work), whilst at other times artists can go for long periods without needing help. Whatever the pattern of need, the research confirmed that artists need access to reliable and up to date advice and information throughout their working lives. And most artists’ needs relate to increasing their capacity to make, show and sell their work or their skills.

During its first full year of operations Artquest received around 200,000 visits to the website, which now averages over 20,000 page requests per month. Not only do London practitioners visit, but also many from elsewhere in the UK and from abroad including most European countries, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and Singapore. The website is reviewed and updated weekly, to remain current and consistent. New services being developed include a noticeboard to allow users to buy, sell and offer art equipment, and advertise studio swaps.

The research that led to the establishment of Artquest echoes a similar research project conducted over 20 years before, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Led by Professor Richard Hoggart, his mid 70s Enquiry into the Economic Situation of Visual Artists in the UK identified similar artists’ needs. In particular, at the outset of this enquiry it was decided to launch a separate, though related, enquiry into the legal needs of artists in the UK. The Artlaw Research Project was established in 1976, chiefly funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and partly by the Arts Council of Great Britain (as it then was). This enquiry lasted two years and involved written and face-to-face consultation with UK’s artists, art students and educators, public and private art organisations, galleries and museums, national and regional art funding bodies as well as lawyers and legal organisations. Research was also undertaken in the USA and Republic of Ireland.

In 1978 this research was published and its findings and recommendations were discussed at a conference held at Chelsea School of Art. Artists, public and private art administrators, arts funding bodies and lawyers endorsed the key recommendations: to establish a specialist legal advice and help service for visual artists in the UK, free at the point of delivery. Immediately thereafter seed-funding for the provision of such a service was given by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, with ongoing core funding being provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Crafts Council, alongside financial contributions which were subsequently made by the Welsh and Scottish Arts Councils.

Artlaw Services, a not-for-profit company, was established during 1978 and sought to deal with artists’ unmet needs. It provided specialist legal advice and help on artlaw matters, free at the point of delivery; an educational programme offering what are nowadays called ‘professional practice studies’ and a publications programme (eg artists’ copyright guide, income tax guide, studio handbook, and sample contracts). A small team of full-time staff, comprising two art lawyers and three administrators, was supported by around 30 art lawyers who gave their services pro bono through the Artlaw Clinic of Volunteer Lawyers. The Service’s education programme was given an award under the Royal Society of Arts’ ‘education for capability’ scheme.

By 1983, when Artlaw Services ceased operating, it was estimated that its volunteer lawyers had given the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of free legal advice and help annually. The reason for its closure was a direct result of the public funding bodies no longer being able to offer their annual revenue grants following severe cuts in public funding of the arts during the Thatcher government’s early years in office. The Service’s honorary Council of Management (comprising artists, arts administrators and lawyers in equal number), decided not to continue providing its services on a commercial basis, given the original research project’s main finding that artists could not afford to pay for the specialist legal help they needed.

This column appeared in the first issue of Art Monthly in 1976, coinciding with the inauguration of the Artlaw Research Project. It has continued to tackle artlaw matters to date. It is entirely appropriate that Artquest, this columnist and Art Monthly have now come together to place the entire Artlaw column archive onto Artquest’s website; and that funding for the substantial work involved has been provided by London Arts and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Access to the archive will be free and visitors will be able to read the articles chronologically, to access particular subject-matter arranged in broad categories, and to make connections with other relevant websites. The broad categories include:

  • Artists and society
  • Forms of trading
  • Artist and studio/workplace
  • Contracts
  • Intellectual property
  • Freedom of expression/censorship
  • Public and private patronage
  • Artists and money
  • Trade practices
  • Art after death.

The Artlaw archive will be updated regularly, including adding each of these columns after their original publication in this journal. The archive has been reviewed and updated to deal with any changes in the law or practice over the years. It is noteworthy that there have been few significant changes over that period – the chief ones being the radical changes to copyright law brought about by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It is also significant that artists’ needs do not appear to have decreased over the past 26 years or so, but have become much greater because of the significant reductions in direct public funding and other support that has occurred since the mid 70s.

It is hoped that access to this archive will add value to Artquest’s already highly valued programmes, and will continue to help artists to meet some of their most pressing professional needs.

Henry Lydiate is an art lawyer. Letters and emails of enquiry will be forwarded to him.

© Henry Lydiate 2003

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.