What was the Artists Union?

Notes by Avis Saltsman -
Page Seven

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The Report of the 4th Annual Conference continued...


My work as Secretary to the AU and the direction of my personal work have in many ways not been so far removed during the last year allowing me to make a regular commitment of time and energy to the tasks at hand. A more general guide to what that work has entailed was given in the article ‘Union Life’ which appeared in the emergency edition of the Journal, and to which members might refer.

More specifically, beyond the regular production of agendas minutes, writing and answering letters and such secretarial duties, I have attempted to keep in touch with a variety of union activities and those involved in the work. This has resulted in my acting as Secretary to the Visual Artists Rights Steering Committee, attendance at meetings between the AU and the International Association of Art, AADW, the Australian Art Workers and attendance of such events as the Artlaw Conference in January and Greater London Arts Association open meetings.

It must be noted that I have very much enjoyed the work and I wish to thank all those with whom I have been in regular contact for their enthusiasm and support throughout the year. Here I must especially mention Charlie Gosford, who has made himself available to discuss and pursue union work every day and any time, and also Joan Jonas of London Branch and Peter Dunn, London Branch rep. for their support and interest in the well being of the AU.

One of my special areas of interest throughout the year has been the internal organisation and well being of the Union and I am very pleased to see the number of motions to conference which deal with such questions. I feel in view of my years work I am justified in using this report as a platform from which to mention three issues which have affected my work during the year and which are likely to be discussed at conference.

SECRETARIAL HELP. Much of my time during the last year has been taken up with work for which I am not trained, for which efficient modern equipment was not to hand and which was difficult to fulfil working from several different locations and often outside working hours. This wasted time could well have been used to far greater benefit to the union if secretarial help was available. In view of the fact that last years Conference motion to appoint a General Secretary fell through it seems that it is essential that next year someone is found to do such work. This is no less the case because it is highly unlikely that anyone taking over the post of secretary will be able to devote the hours that my circumstances have allowed.

INTERNAL STRENGTH. My experience of the union at work is that its strength and vitality comes from a strong and vital executive acting on behalf of its membership. It is a format I have learned to work within and it has proved to be very productive. The lack of real strength at branch level has been a source of concern, in fact their comparative weakness and the small part they have played in my work seems to reflect a special kind of weakness within our structure. New policy, union vitality, union activity should be that of the general membership. It is the needs and demands of our membership which arguably should be the prime mover. My work during the last year convinces me that the important work of next year must be to strengthen the branches. I hope that this conference proves to be an opportunity to question the very nature of the branches and to reach a better understanding of the function they fulfil and might fulfil in the future.


I have been interested to know what the various artist’s organisations have achieved in their own countries, what their problems have been and how they are trying to overcome them. What help, if any, have they been given by the State, how are thy organised, when were they formed and what are their numbers.

Such information might encourage our members and even shame the powers-that-be into giving more consideration to the problems of the artist in Great Britain today. Contact with artists overseas can only benefit us, perhaps lead to us setting up a travel agency or international meetings abroad

To assist me in this, I ask any AU member to forward me any publications, articles, items of interest, addresses, etc. These will be treated with care and returned. I am also anxious to interview AU members who have first hand knowledge of artists groups.

It is possible I will be travelling myself in Europe and U.S. this coming year. Through the information I have already gathered, I have some understanding of the situation in Canada, Australia and Holland. I also look forward to re-establishing AU contact with Finland, Bulgaria and the US. I have also been given contacts for Mexico and Poland.

It is too soon to make any kind of report. But one view begins to emerge. From Australia, which formed its union in 1979, on a Federal system....."Artists in Australia have no voice. We have no collective representation, therefore we have no say in what goes on, how and why it is organised, who it is organised for, or anything else..... ....any suggestions for reform must be premised on the existence of an artist’s organisation,” quoted from ‘Don’t moan, organise’ by Ian Burn and Ian Milliss.

Canadian artists have a union called Canadian Artists’ Representation -Le Front des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC). This has recently celebrated its tenth year of operation. Divided into regions which are autonomous with an elected representative to the National Council which meets annually. This elects a three man executive to carry out its business. It functions through a central office, presently located in Winnipeg, and employs a secretary full time. Its journal has a circulation of 8,000 and is published quarterly. CARFAC has secured artist representation on gallery boards, and is strongly defensive of native Canadian artists’ rights. It is involved in the formulation of public policy as regards federal agencies. It is financed through a grant from the Canada Council and membership fees on a per capita basis.

It has implemented a schedule of rental fees for artists, whenever their work is exhibited in any publically funded gallery. Fee varies, whether an international, national, regional exhibition, whether touring or not. The scale is 4,620 dollars down to a bottom figure of 20 dollars per picture. It publishes a blacklist of some commercial galleries who do not pay fees at all and a gray list of those who do in some cases.


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Contact: Avis Saltsman (or Saltzmann), 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail her
URL: http://www.art-science.com/Avis/au/au7.html
Last revised 14/10/2002 Copyright: Avis Saltsman 1998 - 2002