Percentage for Art: UK OK?

February’s column covered the numerous Percentage for Art schemes which have been developed in America and Europe during the past fifty years. Whether or not something is to be done in this country is a matter for the creators, the administrators and the public to decide, and I shall try to demonstrate what can be done here if we want to.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesise with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who
That it’s naming
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a changing*


I propose, therefore, to answer the 19 questions posed at the end of February’s column; the aim being not to analyse the value of the works produced by the various European and American schemes, but to look at what schemes could be created here, based on those valuable foreign experiences to date.

1. What Measures do we want?
a) Nothing more
Do we want to do no more than leave the whole matter entirely in the hands of artists, crafts-people, architects and public administrators; and, perhaps, merely to encourage them individually and through their professional bodies to take some positive steps to promote greater collaboration between themselves.

b) Public Authorities’ Voluntary Efforts
Do we want, quite separately, or in addition, local authorities or county and metropolitan authorities (like the GLC) to make policy decisions and introduce schemes to implement the desire for greater collaboration? In most European and American States, this is where voluntary Percentage for Art schemes (and eventually legislation) were initiated. Do we likewise want Regional Arts Associations to do something of their own volition in this area – again, on a voluntary, informal basis; and the Arts Councils for Great Britain and Northern Ireland? In some countries, the arts or cultural councils (as they are called), initiated their own schemes which eventually led to legislation.

In this country, however, the Arts Councils do not see their role as promoters of legislative change and, therefore, the most our Arts Councils could achieve would be to persuade the Treasury to release more money to implement their own voluntary programmes; these could be so-called Percentage for Art schemes or merely discretionary Fine Art Department decisions as to who and what was to be financed.

c) New National Body
Perhaps there should be a completely new National Body whose job it would be to foster, promote and finance collaborative schemes. Many European countries have either started out in this way or, with experience, have ended up doing so. The nearest analogue we have is the National Heritage Fund; perhaps we could call ours The National Future Heritage Fund – if you see what I mean! All these measures mentioned so far are real possibilities and, perhaps, all of those things should be done anyway. But what about legislation?

d) Legislation
Many European and American States have felt the need to strengthen the hands of professional bodies, local and national authorities, and of private architects, builders and developers, by requiring a percentage of building costs always to be spent on art work. In this way two things are certain:
i) the money for the artwork is made available by the government (local and/or central);
ii) the money has to be spent on collaborative projects. There are those who see real dangers in legislation. For my own part, I believe, at this stage, that if legislation is desirable, then it must be drafted absolutely correctly first time. The golden rule is, in my view, never to complicate the Bill with provisions for administering the scheme; simply to leave one clause in the Bill which gives a Minister, or other governmental agency or authority, the power to work out and pay for the administration. If that is not done, the Bill would be so long and boring that no realistic parliamentary time would be given to it, and it would never attract the supporters in Parliament it ought to merit.

2. Who should propose and draft the measures and what do they feel about the measures?
Assuming that one or other, or any combination, of the measures discussed so far is desirable, who should propose and draft them? All the obvious interested parties should be consulted first:
a) The creators, through their professional bodies
b) Government at all levels
c) Local and Regional Arts Authorities
d) The Arts Councils
Without a consensus and mutual support of these bodies, success is highly unlikely.

3. Who should lobby and present the measures?
It’s horses for courses; but whoever does it must have a good knowledge and understanding of the idea, and a strong belief in its value. Whatever the lobbyists do, they must achieve a broad-based support from, among others, architects, artists, craftspeople and their professional bodies, and the public. Any steering committees or groups established to promote these measures must, therefore, include representatives of all these bodies. But, above all, any political support acquired must be bi-partisan. If art ever becomes a party-political issue, there will inevitably be only one loser: Art.

4. What are the aims of these measures?
I would refer you to February’s column and, if the arguments there are not enough, add some more points e.g. to help artists financially; to aid the personal development of artists and craftspeople, and soon.

5. How broad should the measures be?
The fundamental questions to get right are: do we want schemes
i) to deal only with original constructions; or
ii) to include remodelling and renovating; or
iii) to include public spaces and places e.g. streets, roads, public utilities like parks, and so on; or
iv) all three
Do we want therefore: ‘Art in Architecture’, or ‘Art in Public Places’: or both.

6. What procedures should be created?
i) none
ii) a national network of bureaucracies
iii) a local network of bureaucracies
iv) should the professional bodies handle everything
If the procedures are not mapped out coherently and become accepted by all involved, any scheme risks being discredited and will therefore fail.

7. What words and phrases would be accepted as common parlance?
In America, for example, many percentage schemes failed to get off the ground or foundered, because the professionals, the bureaucrats and the politicians were continually arguing over the meaning of words like: artwork, commission, construction, project, building, space, place, public and professional bodies.

8. Who should and would finance the schemes? Should money be provided by local or central government, or by both?
Most countries in Europe provide the Percentage for Art money from central government funds, and some provide part from central funds and part from local funds. Whichever method is adopted, however, all of this money should be quite separate from other state and local funds for the art, which should never be mixed in together. In this country, it does seem wrong to look immediately towards the Arts Councils for them to coax money out of local, regional or central government. (It may be that they ought to be involved, at some stage, but not necessarily initially.) Experience elsewhere shows that those to consult in the first instance are the ones responsible for financing public constructions today e.g. Local Authorities, Property Services Agencies, Area Health Authorities, the DES, and so on; and that their advice should be sought, if only because they will be heavily involved with any schemes that are to be introduced. Their support and ideas are vital, particularly in the initial stages.

The main question to ask, of course, is who ought to finance the proposed schemes (whether they be Percentage for Art legislation or other voluntary schemes). When that has been worked out satisfactorily, experience shows that any money appropriated for the schemes should always be transferable to finance other such projects, if any of them do not come to fruition or founder.

9. Should the measures be mandatory or discretionary?
Here we really come to the main issue: legislation or not. Without legislation, much can be done; even in Europe and America this has been proved. However, in every case where states have tried to engineer collaboration without legislation, they have inevitably concluded that legislation was absolutely essential: legislation makes certain that money is made available for artwork and is actually spent on artwork.

The real question, therefore, in this country is not whether we should have legislation, but when. Discretionary measures are best introduced first. There are many reasons for this, but a valuable one is: if we legislate tomorrow, there will be very few artists and craftspeople who have the experience, ability and desire to take on such large-scale public projects without going further into the other arguments now, a sensible course which might be adopted would be to press all individuals and organisations who presently control our environment to take positive steps immediately to bring about the desirable collaboration between artists, craftspeople and architects so that they will themselves generate a vastly increased number of collaborative projects. Meanwhile, legislative measures could, at the same time, be carefully and diplomatically drafted and put forward, so that when the time was right (hopefully when the recession has ‘bottomed out’) public money might well be forthcoming more readily – and the professional creators would have the increased, relevant experiences to offer.

10. Who should administer the schemes, and how should the administration be paid for and by whom?
Obviously, it depends on the nature of the scheme. Leaving aside the legislation/non- legislation issue, there is a need for good, clear administration which ought to be paid for out of funds appropriated quite separately from the money provided for the artworks themselves. Let us look at the National Future Heritage Fund (postulated earlier). Were this to be established tomorrow, it would have to: co-ordinate artists with art selection juries and contracting agencies; negotiate contracts; and act as Clerk of Works. The personnel required to do this very expert job should be well versed in the complexities of law, administration, finance, public relations and art and architectural values. The cost of this necessary bureaucracy would inevitably be high, but would in fact diminish at a certain level of activity so that the more projects it administered, the more cost effective it would become; (and those costs should be quite separate from the money provided for the artworks).

11. How should artists be chosen?
Whatever measures are introduced, there are three main ways of choosing projects:
i) purchasing completed artworks (which gives less chance for integration of art and architecture); or
ii) commissioning the artist to produce a work (which gives more chance for integration); or
iii) competitions (which could be a synthesis of purchasing and commissioning).
However it is done, the lessons from abroad teach that community participation in the choice is essential from the earliest stage, so as to avoid accountability problems later on.

12. Is there a need for a National Registry, Index or Archive?
Yes. Without it, one would have to be created in any event, even informally, in order to provide choices, but it would probably not be as comprehensive and efficient as an official National Index or Archive. There would also be a valuable side effect if we were to have a National Registry: to create one would also be to create a public record of current art for future generations.

13. Is there a need for quality control and how should it be achieved?
Artists themselves have argued elsewhere that choices should be based on the quality of the work and not necessarily solely on the reputation of the artist. This seems sensible, because it gives unknown artists equal opportunities and ensures the support of all artists for whatever collaborative measures may be proposed.

14. Is the aim to achieve decoration or integration, or both?
Foreign experiences show that ‘decoration’ is a good, non-contentious lever with which to force measures through initially, but that integration (as well as decoration) is the ultimate, necessary and desirable goal.

15. Will the measures be financially effective for artists and craftspeople?
This is most important, because the creation of a really good collaborative measure is pointless if:
i) artists cannot or do not get paid for models and designs; or
ii) artists cannot be given a capital advance for the purchase of materials to enable them to start the project; or
iii) payment of actual fees to artists is bureaucratically delayed so that inflation reduces their value by the time they are finally received. (This is what happened in France.)
This is another argument for super-efficient personnel administering these schemes.

16. Should the measures include future maintenance of the artwork or project?
Good administration is relevant not only to ensure the success of whatever measures are introduced (be they legislative or not) requiring collaboration, but also to ensure that any individual project is well serviced and therefore succeeds. Future maintenance is a good example. If Parliament sets funds aside as, say, Percentage for Art money to be spent in a mandatory or discretionary way, it must also be asked at the same time to provide monies to ensure that the artwork is properly maintained when it is finished.
One practical point worth noting: there should always be a maintenance contract, quite separate from the original collaborative project contract.

17. Who should own copyright?
Quite simply, unless the collaborative project contract specifies the copyright position right from the start, only lawyers will profit from the unscrambling of the inevitable mess in later years.

18. Should there be an Artist’s Re-Sale Royalty?
If this artist’s right is ever going to get off the ground in this country, collaborative project contracts is a major sphere where artists could seize the opportunity of incorporating this right as a contractual term. But the very best place for it is in a separate maintenance contract in which the artist could, say, offer to maintain the work at his own expense (less the cost of materials) in exchange for the right to receive a re-sale royalty from any re-sale profits.

19. How can we demonstrate the benefits of these measures to all interested and affected parties?
My advice is:
i. use all the arguments put forward in this and February’s column, and at the I.C.A.
Conference in March;
ii. anticipate negative public/private/professional reaction/hostility and plan for it;
iii. always speak of tangible social/economic/functional and, even, spiritual benefits;
iv. do not necessarily use the same approach with everyone you speak to – that’s called diplomacy.

For those who still do not believe that greater collaboration between artists, craftspeople and architects is desirable in this country, I wish them every success in their utilitarian clock-work-orange-land, which will inevitably be their heritage; of those who do, but remain unconvinced that legislation is necessary and desirable to achieve this greater collaboration, I would ask the following questions:
i. How do they propose to create a permanent source of public funds to pay for the collaborative projects which are desired;
ii. Having created such a fund, how do they propose to ensure that such money is always spent on such projects.


© M. Whitmark and Sons 1963.
© Henry Lydiate



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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.