Skin in the game: why artists need to take control of their finances

Arts accountant and gallery owner Michael Fox has a long history of advocating for fair pay for Australian artists. ArtsHub spoke with him about tax, superannuation, and financial advice for artists.
Skin in the game: why artists need to take control of their finances Michael Fox. Image supplied.
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Andrea Simpson

Thursday 18 June, 2020

Michael Fox is a champion for the financial rights of artists in Australia. As an accountant, valuer, and gallery owner of Fox Galleries (first established in 1998), his advocacy work and career achievements are testament to his passion for the arts.

In 2010 Fox spearheaded the Save Super Art campaign that prevented the proposed ban on artwork investment by superannuation funds.

‘When the Government announced that they were going to ban artworks from self-managed super funds, I formed the Save Super Art Group, and lobbied the government, and effectively saved the concession. So super funds today can still buy artworks,’ Fox told ArtsHub.

ADVOCATING FOR ARTISTS' FINANCIAL RIGHTS

Advocacy was a big reason for Fox’s decision to re-establish Fox Galleries in Melbourne in 2016, after a decade of working as a valuer and art market consultant for firms such as Leonard Joel and Lowensteins.

‘It's really the reason why I set up the gallery again – to operate on what I want to describe as best practice – so that things are run better. So that artists are treated better. That they're paid better, and that their intellectual property is recognise,’ Fox said.

As well as relaunching Fox Galleries four years ago, Michael started his own tax practice, Michael Fox Arts Accountant & Valuer, to look after the accountancy needs of artists, writers, musicians, performers and creative professionals throughout Australia.

Expansion is never easy and Fox said that the Coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the globe has affected every part of the arts industry, including his own gallery.

‘Last year Fox Galleries was awarded a commission from Monash University to publish a book commemorating the end of WWI and it laid the groundwork for a publication series that we've now launched. It was just one way to keep the gallery going when the Coronavirus hit.’

Pivoting your arts business can be a challenge but Fox advised artists that they, ‘need to have more than just one string to their bow’.

RESPONSIBLE FINANCES

Having the right financial understanding will make all the difference in these uncertain times, Fox said. ‘Artists need to take more responsibility for the way their finances are handled. They need to understand how tax works, and they need to understand how banking works.

‘You know the stimulus programs that have been devised by the Government – and I'm not quite sure whether it would have been a different situation if Labor were in power – but these programs have generally rewarded businesses that have a business structure that includes wages.

‘In other words, if you are in business, maybe you should look at having a company and running your business through a company. You might be able to get more tax concessions and more help from the banks If you had a company, rather than just operating as a sole trader.’

As a registered tax agent, prohibitive tax and super laws around artists and their artworks have always been points of contention for Fox.

‘These concepts have been quite interesting to me for a long time, and that's probably why I did the Master of Law at Melbourne Law School,’ Fox said.

‘In doing that, I wrote a paper on the taxation of visual art in Australia,’ he said. 'One of my findings was that the super art tax changes operate in the same way as sin taxes the government impose on alcohol to prevent people drinking more than they should!' 

The fight for artist’s rights will always be at the core of Michael Fox’s practice. ‘We will continue to advocate the Government to change some of these laws,’ he concluded.

Learn more about Michael Fox Arts Accountant & Valuer

About the author

Andrea Simpson is ArtsHub's Feature Writer and Reviews Editor. Andrea is a Filipino-Australian writer with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in the publishing sector.

Andrea has had short stories published in various anthologies, and is currently working on her first novel.  

You can follow Andrea on Instagram @andi_jayyy