Case Studies

Ninuku Arts – Selling works on consignment: chasing payment and negotiating a settlement

Ninuku Arts is an Indigenous owned art centre located in the remote community of Kalka in the APY Lands in far north western South Australia. Its sales are made primarily through exhibiting works in galleries in major cities. In early 2005 it entered into a consignment agreement with an Adelaide gallery for the sale of 29 artworks by 19 of its artists. There was no written contract merely an itemized list of the paintings signed by the gallery. There was no clear agreement about how and when the sale proceeds would be paid.

All but 6 of the works were either sold (and payment sent to the art centre) or returned. Ninuku Arts made many requests for payment for the 6 outstanding paintings or, if they had not sold, for their return to the art centre. No response was received. In November 2006, Artists in the Black sent a formal letter of demand on behalf of Ninuku Arts to the gallery but received no response.

Artists in the Black turned to its long time supporters DLA Phillips Fox in Adelaide (now Fox Tucker Lawyers) for pro bono assistance. Another letter of demand was sent and the gallery owner finally responded. With the consent of Ninuku Arts, Despina Adamopoulos of Fox Tucker Lawyers’ Adelaide office negotiated a settlement with the gallery owner pursuant to which he agreed to pay the outstanding amount in monthly instalments. Over $1900 was ultimately paid to the art centre over the next 18 months. The final payment of $325 was never received and the debtor left his address and could not be found.

Ninuku Arts and its artists were relieved to recover the majority of the money owing – $1900 was a lot better than nothing! On legal advice, it decided not to pursue the small outstanding amount.

This case demonstrates not only the importance of dealing with reputable galleries and businesses and having a written contract, but how to achieve a practical solution through negotiation. The debtor simply could not pay the full amount but was prepared to pay instalments.

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Fox Tucker Lawyers are valued supporters of Artists in the Black. Their website is www.foxtucker.com.au.

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