A man with a blue stripped jumper has his hands raised in mid conversation. A woman on his left looks at him.
Aidan Moesby and Sokny Onn at the 2017 Unlimited Emerging Selection Panel. Photo by Rachel Cherry

The Basics: Contracts and Finances

With 24 commissions and awarded artworks fully underway, and a new cohort of awards coming in the new year, Unlimited’s Fiona Slater shares some thoughts on those boring (there we’ve said it) but all important areas of artworks – contractual agreements and finances!  

Whilst established artists may feel calm and confident about invoicing, contracts and budgets, we are aware that these words can strike fear into the hearts of some emerging and early career artists.  

This two-part blog is not a comprehensive guide to the legal and financial side of arts projects, but instead offers some tips on the topic and signposts to other useful websites and resources – here’s part one, Agreements and Contracts, with part two, Invoicing, forming our next blog. 

Agreements and Contracts 

If, as part of an arts project, you are collaborating with other people or paying for services it’s a good idea to have an agreement or contract in place. These may seem daunting, but they don’t need to be – they are useful for outlining the relationship between the parties (the people or organisations between whom the contract or agreement exists) and the scope of the work, which helps everyone to be on the same page, to reduce misunderstandings further down the line, and to protect those involved from wrongdoing. It’s good to put together a contract which clarifies:  

  1. The key responsibilities of each person
  2. The deadlines for activity
  3. A payment schedule (how much will be paid and when)

This will be the basis of most agreements but there are a few other bits and bobs (not a legal term) which can be very useful to include. Each item discussed in the agreement is called a clause; some standard clauses are: 

Cancellation – If a party need to pull out of the project / agreement, how much notice do they need to give? If you do not include a cancellation clause then, under Contract Law, this means neither party can break the contract without the other’s agreement. 

Confidentiality – This clause just makes it clear that all parties agree not to share information, from the project or contract, with anyone else. Some projects are subject to Freedom of Information legislation however, so not everything can be kept confidential. 

Insurance and DBS – Who is responsible for insuring the work? If working with children and vulnerable adults, are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks required and who is responsible for arranging these? 

Copyright – Once the project is complete, who ‘owns’ the work? If you hold the copyright this means you can continue to present and tour work and maybe even make money from it. If you would like information on copyright DACS are a good organisation to go to for advice. 

Monitoring and Evaluation – How will you monitor the process? Do you or your collaborator need to submit feedback or an evaluation at the end? With some funders (Unlimited included) you will be required to submit a final evaluation before you are paid your final instalment of any grant. 

Access – This may not be a standard item in most agreement or contract templates but if you are a disabled artist or are working with disabled artist it’s important to include a clause which clarifies who is responsible for supplying access requirements for collaborators and, if creating a public facing work, your audiences’ and participants’ access requirements.  

Writing a contract might appear to be an overly formal process for what may seem like a straightforward activity, but it can save money, time and tears in the long run.  Your agreement may simply be an exchange of emails – as long as they are received, responded to and cover all key areas.  

If you are working from an online template, ensure you check whether it’s a UK or international template as some elements differ considerably. 

Some useful links to do with contracts: 

Equity Guide to Contracts 

ArtQuest. Contracts as easy as ABC a Users Guide 

ArtQuest. Commissioning an artist 

Crunch. Contract Samples 

Our next blog, part two of this one, will cover invoicing – stay tuned!