Along with so many other changes, the pandemic has accelerated the shift of our lives into the digital world. Artists have been no exception to this development: With many aspects of how they produce and distribute their work having transitioned online, the disruption has opened up urgent questions about how to properly value the creative labour of independent artists.
Ahead of the Artpreneur 2021 conference, Apt613 caught up with one of the panelists to talk about the newly adopted fee schedule created and ratified by the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA), and demystifying the process of how to value artists’ creative output. Mariane Bourcheix-LaPorte is a researcher with IMAA and a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University who worked on IMAA’s fee schedule and best-practices document for digital distribution of art.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: What inspired the creation of this digital media arts fee schedule?
Mariane Bourcheix-LaPorte: For several years, the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA) has had a fee schedule for in-person presentations of artists’ work. Obviously in the last few years, there’s been more and more use of online presentation platforms by by media arts presenters. All the guidelines or the documents that IMAA creates are member-driven. They are developed by the community, for the community. There was nothing around online presentations.
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I think this project is really kind of an accumulation of “need.” And really, what gave the final impetus is the pandemic, and just most organizations turning to online programming without having clear guidelines around it.
Is it fair to say that the pandemic-induced movement online of these arts-based activities and presentations corresponded with a devaluation of artists’ work?
I think that’s always an issue in the independent media arts community, because even if you look at some of the fees, they can be pretty low. So it’s always hard to say. The problem is, because the artist’s fees and similar for streaming fees, they’re licensing fees. Licensing fees are tied to copyright—they’re copyright royalties, essentially. And copyright is tied to the use of the work, not the labor that was put in to create the work.
I think that’s at the root of the issues, in terms of always trying to figure out what the value of artists’ work is, because the system that we have (at least for visual and media arts) is not about remunerating the artists based on how much time they put in, or their expertise that way. It’s about remunerating for the public exhibition, a public screening, or just online streaming of the work. So that’s where it’s always hard to say what’s the value.
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What are some notable features of the digital media arts fee schedule?
We have set up some definitions around different types of “online presentation,” which might appear kind of straightforward. But it really helps to define what do we mean when we say online presentation. I think that’s the first thing: that everybody has a common understanding of in-person versus online, hybrid, what’s live-streaming, what’s on-demand presentation.
We’ve set some parameters for on-demand presentation, which I think are really important as well. Namely the period of on-demand availability and the streaming window. That just puts some boundaries around how long material can be accessible for, and for which the recommended fees apply. It doesn’t mean that presenters can’t go longer than that; it just means that the longer they make the work accessible, the more they should remunerate the artists.
What we’ve done is to delineate that each component is its own event, and so you should remunerate for the separate events. It’s to say that it’s not okay for an organization to just assume that because they’ve presented something in-person, or they’ve done a live-streaming of it, then they can make it accessible on their Vimeo channel or their website for everybody to see. In that sense, there was, I think, a sense of protecting the artists.
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What strikes me in what you mentioned is that by attaching a price tag to all these different ways a presenter might leverage an artist’s work, those are all ways that value is being added to whatever they’re offering to their community. And this fee schedule is just making that value explicit.
That’s exactly it. We’ve had some artists tell us that if they give a talk, it can be in-person or can be online, doesn’t matter. The talk is recorded, and then it’s put on the organization’s YouTube channel, or Vimeo channel or website, and is basically accessible forever. That has hurt them. They haven’t been asked to give that talk. Instead of inviting the artist to a classroom, the professor just screens the talk.
What do you hope that this new fee schedule can accomplish?
Right now, we’re asking organizations to slowly transition towards a full adoption of this fee schedule. For a lot of organizations, they already have their budget set, you know, for the next two years. For a lot of them, it’s going to mean increased fees for a lot of organizations, especially if they go with the recommended fees, rather than the minimum fees as their go-to amount.
So when we get to that point, if organizations are able to meet the recommended fees, I think it’d be great because it’s going to be a lot more money for artists than what they would have been receiving otherwise.
Often I think these kinds of resources can seem intimidating for artists or for practitioners, because they’re made for organizations. But if artists understand what the organizations they work with are basing themselves off of, I think that artists will have an easier time and will feel more confident in negotiating their conditions.
Understanding all of those things gives you that leg up when you are working with presenters, and get the sense that they’re not doing you a favour by showing your work. They are in a working relationship with you. There’s always a power dynamic, but you have to try to see it that way.
Check out Mariane Bourcheix-LaPorte at IMAA’s panel to learn more about how artists can advocate for themselves, as well as online accessibility, artist consent, intellectual property management, and Indigenous cultural property. You can tune in to that panel and much more by registering for Artpreneur, an annual multi-day conference dedicated to providing a space and resources to artists in building their professions. Artpreneur 2021 takes place on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25, 2021.