Free loans for contemporary art on the table at City of Sydney

A proposal going before City of Sydney councillors on Monday night would mean the City helps to establish an interest-free loans scheme for people buying art from local galleries. The goal: to make art more accessible to those with shallower pockets than your typical collector, and to get more artworks sold.
Based on similar programs in the UK and the Netherlands and on Tasmania’s COLLECT Art Purchases Scheme, the pilot program would receive $60,000 in seed-funding from the City as part of its Creative City Cultural Policy and Action Plan, launched this year.

A key difference would be that while OwnArt UK and COLLECT are fully government-backed, the local program would run as a commercial concern following the initial investment.

The organisation behind the program is 10 Group, the art publishing business that produces March’s non-profit art festival Art Month. Chief executive Paul Becker says the program is bringing “good retail practice to the industry”.

“Art is a fairly expensive upfront cost and I can’t think of any other industry that doesn’t offer credit,” says Becker. “Jeans, a fridge, a car – you can get them all on a sort of layby.”
The scheme works like this: If a work is $1000, a customer pays 10 Group 10 per cent, or $100 upfront. Then, over a set period of time, the customer pays the rest off in equal instalments. 10 Group pays the gallery within two weeks at a discounted rate – the difference between what the customer pays and what the gallery charges 10 Group is how Becker’s scheme makes its money.
The process also means 10 Group, not galleries or artists, assumes the risk. While there have reportedly been zero defaults on the 1,893 loans issued as part of Tasmania’s COLLECT scheme over six years, Becker says “we’re not so naive as to think there will be no default rate” in Sydney. By paying the galleries quickly, “we take the risk of taking on the credit”.
Becker says he is in preliminary talks with several galleries and there is keen interest in the scheme. Ultimately, he plans to take the program across the state and to the rest of the country.
“It’s a tough time for the industry. We’re coming through a recession and there are structural issues, too,” says Becker. “There are so many barriers to entry in the contemporary art industry, and this is removing some of them.”