The above image has been doing the rounds on social media of late, informing the art sector that the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) have opened a public call for feedback on a proposed Norms and Standards Guidelines for the Visual Arts in South Africa. VANSA have been specifically commissioned by the Department of Arts and Culture to create this document in consultation with the South African arts community. South Africa will be only the fifth country in the world to have such a document. (For interest’s sake, the other four countries are Australia, Canada, England and Ireland).
The immediate responses to this (understandably) have been to cry outrage and censorship.
This however suggests that nobody has bothered to read what VANSA is actually looking to achieve with these guidelines, as they are heavily weighted towards protecting artists’ rights commercially, creatively and intellectually. The point is to receive feedback from the arts community in order to establish a set of guidelines based on what the community itself feels is important.
In an industry with extremely vague and nebulous guidelines informing professional practice, this is not a bad thing.
According to the documents available on the VANSA website, the goal is to
Establish protocols, guidelines, standards and minimum rates for the employment, contracting or commissioning of creative work from artists.
Furthermore, these protocols and guidelines should focus on providing guidance and a set of minimum standards for public institutions, departments and agencies in their interaction with visual artists.
In other words the proposed Norms and Standards are not there to dictate the content of artists’ work, but rather to provide a template for the working relationship between artists and institutions. This includes suggestions for contract requirements, payment and the transport and care of works.
Artists’ Rights and Dealing with Controversy
A major goal of the Norms and Standards is to formalise the moral and intellectual rights which artists have over their creative work, and the need for these to be addressed and protected in agreements that artists may enter into with both private and public sector entities.
Of the proposed draft outline, the section which is going to be most pressing and in need of feedback is Section E.4, which pertains to “Cultural norms and sensitivities” and “Dealing with Controversy”.
Artists and Commercial Galleries
One of the important goals of the Guidelines will be to establish a code of conduct which addresses the commercial relationships between artists and gallerists and discourages exploitative practices. VANSA is looking for feedback on topics ranging from Full Gallery Representation to one-off exhibitions, agents/consultants, commission splits, and auctions.
Legislated Norms and Standards vs Guidelines
Because the resulting document will be a guideline rather than a legislated norm, the Norms and Standards will be recommendations for appropriate professional practice, but will not be enforced.
As VANSA puts it:
Norms and Standards are industry protocols, usually developed by an industry body, by which all stakeholders can or must operate. Legislated norms and standards (such as minimum wages) are norms and standards that must be followed. Guidelines are norms and standards that indicate best practice but are not legislated.
Needless to say, feedback from the industry is going to be crucial in defining these guidelines. While they won’t constitute law (which is obviously beneficial to all parties) the benefits of having a document to guide professional practice is clear.
You can make your contribution here. Please note submissions close 30 April 2016.
For more details on the Norms and Standards Project email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once the feedback has been consolidated, a draft of the guidelines will be made available online in late May for further feedback before finalising.