Have you ever walked into a building and it felt like you’d been there a million times before? That was how I felt when I walked into Warehouse 416 a few years back. I assumed I’d been there a few times before during Oakland Art Murmur, but it just felt like home. And for the next two years, it was almost home. There were periods that I was there almost every day. During that time, I met Damon Powell, whose studio is at Warehouse 416.
The story Damon is sharing today isn’t a “typical” legal ropes learning experience. But when he shared it with me via email, I asked if he would share it with you. Because it’s another great reminder of how the golden rule isn’t always upheld by the businesses we work with.
Without diving into the nitty gritty, tell us a little about a time you learned the “legal” ropes…
I had piece accepted to an out of state show. I packed the piece as best I could, marked fragile on both the front and back using red marker. I went to a local Shipping franchise to ship the package since I had plenty of time and planned to ship the art send inexpensively via ground transport. In addition to the return shipping label, I also purchased insurance on the work in the amount of $2,000.
I was informed that an insurance policy that expensive would require air transport which would take only 2-3 days (price went up of course). The box containing my art was open on one side because I planned to place the return label inside before I closed it. The shipper offered to do this for me and was well acquainted with the contents of the box and the manner in which it had been prepared for shipping.
Almost 2 weeks later, I receive an email from the gallery saying that my piece had not arrived and inquiring about my participation in the show. Now I am frantic and contact the shipping franchise but no one can give me any information because I didn’t have the tracking number with me at the moment. I rush to the shipping franchise and was informed that my piece was returned two days ago and proceeds to hand me a mangled box. I open the box to find my original work of art is damaged in several places and the frame and mat are nowhere to be found!
Almost 2 weeks later, I receive an email from the gallery saying that my piece had not arrived and inquiring about my participation in the show.
Attached to the back of the box is a letter from the insuring company stating that the package had been packed improperly and did not meet the requirements outlined in some “International Shipping Standards” document, and thus my claim will not be honored and the shipper is not at fault!
Yuck, that doesn’t sound fun, how did you feel at that moment?
I was completely devastated!! I was soooo angry that I literally could not speak. I knew that I had to leave because there was a good possibility that if I didn’t the police would end up arresting me. I tried to meditate but was too angry to stay focused.
- I was not informed of any international shipping standards.
- I came to the franchise because they were the professionals.
The sales person looked inside the box several times and knew how much the item was insured for but no one said “I really think that you ought to take more precautions with this package given its value. If you don’t you are shipping at your own risk…”
They are the professionals and I assumed they would provide help and education if something were not up to standards.
Did this impact your creative business? How?
Once I was able to calm down, I contacted the gallery and informed them of the situation. They were willing to still accept the piece if I was able to fix it, but I would miss the opening reception which was only 2 days away. I was already behind schedule on delivery and was now about to fork out a substantial amount of money a second time to ship the same piece of art! If the work sold, this would still put an unacceptable dent into any profit I was hoping to gain.
If the work sold, this would still put an unacceptable dent into any profit I was hoping to gain.
What ropes did you learn from going through this experience?
After four hours of work, I was able to fix the piece and resend it using another vendor who was very helpful and informative. However, this vendor could only insure the work for $1,000. The salesperson spoke about some customers using their homeowners insurance to insure works of art they shipped.
I contacted my Studio Insurance agent to discuss the options available for shipping my work and to inquire if any policies could protect my work and my business in the future. In a nutshell, there is not much I can do except familiarize myself with International Shipping Standards, accept whatever insurance I can get from the vendor, and pray for the best.
He indicated that the pricing of works of art is viewed as an extremely subjective endeavor and any policy which he sold me (there were some riders…) would not really protect me if something happened. If they did pay it would be minimal, and they would probably find some way to get out of it due to the subjective nature of pricing in this field.
The only way to avoid this would be to have my work appraised (which is extremely expensive), and/or continue to grow my business large enough to become a recognized and collected name so that other more established entities could validate my pricing (or appraise my work for me).
How can you avoid this experience?
Thanks Damon! When Damon first reached out to me to share this story, I was a little stumped on what could be done from the legal end.
Sure you might:
- have a slim chance of winning in small claims court, but it probably isn’t worth it
- get inland marine policy, but only if the cost makes sense
- get a rider for your business liability insurance, but again only if it financially makes sense
And after mulling this issue for more than a month, I don’t have any better answers.
The reality is that this boils down to practical answers:
- doing detailed research on how best to package your artwork (BTW…when researching this post, I found this incredibly comprehensive fine art shipping tutorial)
- pricing your artwork so that you can afford to use the best shipping materials (or charging separately for shipping when possible)
- regularly checking in with your insurance broker to decide if a business liability insurance rider or inland marine policy makes sense
- asking lots of questions—maybe even my favorite question, “What questions should I be asking you that I’m not?”
But no matter what you do, you’ll probably still be fretting at night until it arrives safely.
What do you do to assure your artwork arrives at its destination safely?