The Bill To Protect Artists

The passage of DC’s Bill to Protect Artists was a victory for the arts community and the DC Advocates for the Arts.


Drafted in consultation with Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts board member Janet Fries, Councilmember Mary Cheh’s bill B-18-451 addressed a serious threat to artists’ work in the marketplace, related to consignment.


Consignment transaction is a constant part of the gallery economy. Artists are usually not paid by galleries when they drop their work off for sale. Works are actually held in consignment, and artists are paid once, or if, a work sells. In order for the gallery to be able to legally transfer ownership upon sale, the works are held in consignment.


Due to a legislative error, since July 2001, DC had no provision covering artist/gallery transactions involving works of art. In the absence of a statute, works of art owned by artists but in the possession of galleries (e.g., loaned for exhibition or otherwise in a gallery’s inventory) can be seized by creditors of the gallery.  Under progressive statutes, such as Bill B18-451, a consignee-gallery holds the works of art received from the consignor in trust, and the works of art consigned are not subject to the claims of the consignee-gallery’s creditors. DC used to have such a law (DC Code Section 28:9-114), but this section was omitted when the new Uniform Commercial Code Secured Transactions Revision Act of 2000 was adopted.


In December of 2009 the DC Advocates began a campaign asking that the City Council pass a bill amending the UCC to protect the rights of Artists, Collectors, and the Estates of Artists. We asked that the DC Council pass a law including the following provisions:


1 –  Consignee-gallery is agent or trustee with a fiduciary obligation to consignor;


2 –  Works of art and any proceeds from sales are held in trust for the benefit of the consignor;


3 –  Consignor has right to sue consignee-gallery for the value of any works appropriated by consignee-gallery and/or seized by creditors of consignee-gallery;


4 –  Consignor has right to recoup court fees and reasonable attorneys’ fees associated with any lawsuit to enforce rights;


5 –  Consignor is defined to include artists, collectors, and the estates of artists.


You can see some our work on the issue in the following links:


December 1, 2009  DC Advocates Petition to Secure Action on Bill to Protect Artists

June 16, 2010   City Paper Covers DC Advocates Petition to Protect Artists

July 14, 2010  Hearing Scheduled for Bill on Artist Protection! 

Sept. 22, 2010 Testimony at the PSCA Hearing on the Bill to Protect Artists

Sept. 23, 2010  What Happened at the Hearing?

Sept. 24, 2010  Statement by Councilmember Michael Brown following PSCA Hearing


In October, 2010 the bill was approved out of committee, and recommended for consideration by the Council of the Whole. The committee report included testimony by a number of Advocates, and the entire text – including signature pages – from our petition.

In November, 2010 the Council voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

On December 6th, 2010 the Mayor signed the bill into law.