Artists’ scheme: a good idea at the time, till it dodged own appraisal

Not every policy will have the intended outcome, but we can respectfully evaluate what went wrong and learn from it. A stakeholder and an economist look back at an arts policy where the evaluation was buried.

It is six years since Australia’s Artist Resale Royalty scheme (ARR) commenced and three years since submissions to its Post Implementation Review (PIR) closed, though the review itself has never been published. However, in the absence of a healthier public commitment to transparency, we can now answer some questions about the scheme.

How much has the ARR helped artists?

Supported, both at its inception and since, largely for its assistance to Indigenous artists, the ARR has delivered approximately $1.6 million to Indigenous artists, or about $260,000 per year according to Copyright Agency (CAL), which manages the scheme. Over the last six years about 420 non-Indigenous artists — about 5% of the total of around 9000 professional non-Indigenous Australian visual artists — have received around $2.6 million in royalty payments averaging $430,000 per year.

Of the total number of  individual ARR royalty payments made to date, 41% have been between $50 and $99 (minus the 15% management fee). However, because so many artists commanding the highest prices are dead, 168 estates have received 45% (around $1.9 million) of all ARR’s payments. This compares with government payments to the start-up and administration costs of the ARR of $2.2 million.

Does the scheme generate more benefits than costs?

If this result looks woeful to you, it does to us too. Alas it’s just the beginning. The bare facts already reported demonstrate the extraordinary inefficiency of the program. But there’s more. Brian Tucker Accounting, which services many Indigenous art trading businesses, offered this in its submission to the Post Implementation Review of the ARR scheme:

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