Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse: the worst happened to Charles Ginnever. In the spring of 2003, the sculptor, who divides his time between Vermont and California, was given two months to leave the house and studio he had been renting for 13 years in the West Coast town of Petaluma: the owner was looking to sell, and the price was higher than Ginnever could pay. His options appeared to be few. Another studio space was not immediately available; he thought about storing his bronze sculptures in a container, “but that’s expensive, and who would want a container on their property?” he said. However, “a lady down the road had a barn that I could rent, and I filled it to the brim.” The rent was also quite reasonable, $175 per month. Within a month of cramming in a lifetime’s worth of artwork, this wooden barn in the middle of a dry grass field caught fire. “I lost 50 years’ worth of work in that fire,” Ginnever said. “All my bronzes were toast, three to four million dollars down the drain.”
The story gets worse: Ginnever had no insurance on his work—there had been coverage in the previous studio, but he let the policy lapse when he moved out—and the owner of the barn had not understood that the insurance she had on the building became null and void if she rented it. If it is any consolation, Ginnever is not alone in this predicament. Harry Hearne, a raku potter in Mulfreesboro, Tennessee, who had used an outbuilding on his property as a studio, also suffered a devastating loss when the building burnt to the ground in early 2001. The building and contents were protected in his homeowner’s insurance policy but it was written in the policy, “if any portion of the building is used as a business, no portion is covered,” Hearne said. He hadn’t read that section, because his insurance agent had assured him that he was OK. When most artists are told that they should think of themselves as small businesses, most assume that refers to record-keeping (how much they spent to produce their work, how much money was generated in sales) and the payment of taxes.
Few businesses would last, however, if all they did was produce stuff to sell. Items may need to be advertised (to potential collectors) and promoted (to the media), test marketed (exhibitions), and distributed (arts and crafts shows, shops and galleries), all of which call for a variety of skills not ordinarily taught in art school. (Business schools, on the other hand, can teach those auxiliary skills but not what to produce.) Yet another body of knowledge that may need to be acquired along the way involves insurance, of which there are many types. Artists may seek insurance protection for their studios against fire, theft, natural disasters (hurricane, tornadoes, floods, lightning, earthquakes) and accidents (a visitor slips and falls, hurting himself or damaging an object). If they have any employees, artists are likely to be obligated by state law to take out a workers’ compensation policy, a form of insurance covering accidents at the workplace, and they also may arrange for their employees (and themselves) to have health insurance.
When they display their work outside of their studios, more insurance concerns arise. There is transit insurance, protecting the objects from the studio to the fair or exhibition site and back again, and general liability policies that provide coverage for pieces in a booth and for accidents that may occur during a show (visitors falling, a fire within a booth that spreads to other booths, shelving that collapses because it cannot support the weight of objects). Generally, arts and crafts show exhibitors are responsible for most accidents occurring within their booths, and some show sponsors stipulate that artists and craftspeople carry a commercial general liability policy. Other show organizers may make no requirement of insurance but their contracts waive all liability for any accidents theft, or damage that may occur during a show. (Refusing to accept liability may not hold up, however, if an accident occurs as a result of the show organizer’s negligence, such as visitors tripping on wires that were not adequately taped down, inadequate security, or because of aisles that are not wide enough.)
The cost of all this insurance varies widely, depending on the amount of coverage (most insurance packages for artists and craftspeople offer a maximum of one or two million dollars in total liability), the type of work created (fewer physical risks exist for painters and graphic designers than for sculptors, especially those who are welders), and the location of the artist. Rates tend to be higher in Florida, California, and New York because of geography (hurricanes, mud slides, and wild fires) and possible terrorism. Studio insurance may also be more difficult to obtain for artists who do not have a strong track record of sales. Insurers are reluctant to pay a settlement for an object that has no clearly established market value other than the artist’s sense of its worth.
Even well-established artists look to save money where they can. Sculptor Kent Ullberg, for instance, obtains full health insurance coverage for himself, his wife (who is also his business manager), and five employees, but the families of those employees are required to make a co-payment. Glenna Goodacre lowers the amount of insurance she purchases by relying on the policies of “local and out-of-state subcontractors, who have their own companies and do much of the heavy work in the studio, such as welding armatures, blocking out clay, carpentry, mold-making, shipping and, of course, casting,” her studio manager Dan Anthony said. “I keep costs down by not taking in-transit insurance,” said Washington, Connecticut, sculptor Philip Grausman, adding that he purchases other types of insurance “to cover for a catastrophe.” Insurance of all types may be purchased from local agencies and from state representatives of nationally based companies, although many artists and craftspeople buy insurance “packages” that are tailored to their particular needs. The Managing Agency Group (800.274.6364, <www.mag-hrh.com>), for instance, offers a general plan that provides up to two million dollars in total coverage, including a studio and its contents, works in transit and at a temporary exhibition site, medical and product liability, with annual premiums ranging from $400 to $1,700. The wide range reflects differences in the amount of inventory an artist or craftsperson may carry and the cost of materials with which that person works—jewelers and sculptors have higher replacement costs than, say, a doll-maker. Flather & Perkins (800.422.8889, <www.flatherperkins.net>) has two basic policies for artists, a $500 general liability plan that covers slip-and-falls (medical payments), product liability, loss of equipment other than computers (computers are a separate area of coverage), business vehicle accidents, and fires, and a $1,500 fine arts package that covers the value of the artwork itself when there is damage, theft, or destruction in and out of one’s studio. Part of that plan covers works-in-progress, paying the artist labor and materials costs if the piece was less than half completed and the full selling price if the object was more than half finished. An altogether different package is available through John Buttine (212.697.1010 or 800.964.4454, <www.buttine.com>), which provides insurance coverage strictly on a per-show basis, costing $175 for up to $2 million in general liability protection and $300 for $50,000 in property coverage. Among the other insurers that specialize in the arts and crafts are:
Artist/Craftsman Protection Plan (301.816.0045 or 800.638.2610, <www.asicorporation.com>)
Chicago Artists’ Coalition (312.670.2610, <www.caconline.org>)
Connell Insurers (417.334.2000, <www.connellinsurance.com>)
Fine Arts Risk Management (703.312.6407 or 888.812.3276, <www.nnng.com>)
Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (973.696.4600, <www.ajg.com>)
Hartford Financial Services Group (860.547.5000, <www.thehartford.com>)
Henderson Phillips Fine Arts (202.955.5750 or 800.871.9991,<www.ajg.com>)
Huntington Block (202.223.0673 or 800.432.7465)
Insurevents.Com (800.279.6540, <www.insurevents.com>)
International Sculpture Center (609.689.1051, <www.sculpture.org>)
Jewelers Mutual Insurance (800.558.6411, <www.jewelersmutual.com>)
Kaye Fine Arts (212.210.9200 or 800.456.KAYE, <www.kinsurancecenter.com>)
RLI Insurance (800.331.4929, <www.rlicorp.com>)
Thomas & Pratt Insurance (310.394.5363 or 877.334.6327 <www.fineartguy.com>).