Art as a Business: lecture notes

May 19, 2015

Last night, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture, entitled “Art as a Business”, given by the Arts Law Centre of Australia. St George School of Fine Art graciously provided the venue and the event was supported by Kogarah Council. It was well attended both by student colleagues and by members of the St George Art Society.

Here is the ‘Top 10’ advice I took away from the event.

1. Re-read Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way or any other of her books). And put her ideas into sustained practice.

2. Decide whether you’re an Anonymous-Attic-Artist or an Artist-who-Operates-in-the-Public-Domain. Consult http://www.artslaw.com.au and http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au for more information.

3. If you an artist operating under your own legal name, there’s no need to formally register a Business Name. Operate as a Sole Trader using your legal name (see business.gov.au).

4. Get an ABN (even if you don’t make the minimum threshold tax level of $AU18,300). Keep in mind that formal arts funding, e.g. grants from local Councils, usually requires one since they most often fund auspiced entities and not Sole Trader individuals, given their stringent                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    reporting responsibilities and transparency to LGA ratepayers.

5. GST only comes into play if you’re making $A75,000 or more.

6. Check ASIC Connect and ATMOSS to see if another artist somewhere else is already using a name identical to yours. Be clear in your own mind about the differences between a Business Name, a Trademark and a Company Name.

7. Registering a Company is expensive and onerous in terms of reporting and compliance; too difficult for a Sole Trader.

8. If working collaboratively (especially over a long period of time) with another artist, consider a written/signed/witnessed Partnership Agreement to minimise misunderstandings.

9. If receiving income from several revenue streams (e.g. day job, part-time jobs) including working as an artist Sole Trader, you’ll be taxed by the ATO as a single tax-paying entity. Write off art production expenses against the whole-of-income. Don’t worry about whether your art is a loss-making enterprise year on year, the ATO is only interested if you don’t declare income, not if it makes a profit or not.

9. Check your insurance: not just personal injury but things like home studio, theft of expensive cameras, external visitors visiting your home as part of your business activity.

10. If insurance is difficult/expensive, actively consider mitigating or limiting the risks. Keep in mind that galleries will often insure your work during an exhibition, but you will have to insure work travelling to and from the gallery: check the gallery’s fine print.

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