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September 25, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Local Artists Complain of Late Payments and Poor Communication

A Wellington gallery marketing itself as “emphasising collaboration and community” has been subject to multiple complaints from artists regarding poor communication and late payments.

Matchbox Studios is a gallery and gift shop that hosts regular themed exhibitions, showing the works of a variety of local artists.

“Matchbox is the first place I exhibited with because it was so accessible and affordable, especially for younger students,” Sam*, an artist and student, reflected.

Artists pay an upfront cost of around $180 in order to exhibit, and on the conclusion of each exhibition, artists are sent an invoice outlining the sales made and the total profits, less a commission fee.

Invoices for the exhibition Monochrome were distributed on June 25, stating that payment would be made on July 25. Invoices for the Pet Project exhibition were distributed on July 16, stating payment would be made August 20.

However, at least five artists who were involved in the two exhibitions complained of not being paid by the invoice due dates, and attempts to follow up or enquire about the late payments were “stonewalled” by Matchbox Studios.

Collectively, the artists had more than $1100 owing in overdue payments.

Monochrome was Alice’s* first exhibition in Wellington. “I was quite excited about it,” she told Salient. “The space was lovely, and the exhibition itself was good — but having to not only chase up the gallery, but also be being studiously ignored, kind of takes the shine off.”

On August 25, five days after the due date for Pet Project payments and a month after the due date for Monochrome payments, a collective email was sent to Matchbox Studios by four of the artists, complaining of the lack of payment and response.

Prior to this, the artists had not received any response from the gallery owner, Cherry Holohan, who was in the UK at the time of invoicing.

The email states: “Other artists (and I) have all emailed Cherry multiple times about this issue, but she has made no effort to reply and we feel that she’s just ignoring the problem. One artist told me that she went into Matchbox to ask about this directly and was told that Cherry is overseas at the moment, which could explain the ‘delay’ in her response. But if she knew she was going to be unable to respond to emails and pay her artists, why didn’t she designate someone to do so in her stead?”

“We feel that this is incredibly unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour from Matchbox. We had a great time exhibiting with you, but this turn of events is really taking the shine off.”

The artists received responses to the collective email, sent by a Matchbox Studios staff member, apologising for the delay in payment but stating that they did not have any control over the payments.

“Cherry Holahan, the owner of Matchbox, is the only person who can issue funds, so if you have any questions in regard to payment please contact her directly.”

“Unfortunately we are running a little behind with gallery payments currently while Cherry is away on business, as she has limited access to internet. Please note that payments will start being processed again from September 3 onwards. I appreciate your patience regarding this matter, but please know that we are a small business and are doing the very best we can to get back on top of things.”

None of the artists had received payments by September 10.

“This excuse, that they are a small business and doing their best, is quite frankly a bit rude,” Sam said. “Individual artists are the smallest business you can get […] Some of the artists were relying on that money to pay their own bills.”

Alice agreed. While the amount owed to her “wasn’t significant,” she said “the principal is.”

“The idea that a gallery reliant on the time and talent of artists and their work would then not only fail to pay them but actively avoid contacting them is unacceptable.”

Salient contacted Matchbox Studios and Holohan about the delayed payments on September 11. Salient received an immediate response from Holohan, who was in the UK at the time.

Outstanding payments were made to artists the following day, and all artists received an email apologising for the delay. For Alice and Kate*, another artist, this was the first email response received from Holohan.

Following her return to New Zealand on September 18, Holohan explained to Salient that her trip had not been for business, but for unexpected personal reasons. Holohan was “extremely sorry” for the miscommunication, which she said was due to an employee statement.

“There were a couple of crossed wires with dates […] I think there was a bit of confusion where artists thought they were going to be paid on the September 3, but the message I left was that I’d be back in reception, not making payments, on September 3.”

Holohan said that, as a small business, Matchbox sometimes struggled to make payments within the required time, although “[we] do always try to communicate with people on that.”

“It’s been a really tough year, so we’ve been behind on certain things […] but we’ve been working really hard to turn that around.”

Salient asked Holohan how the overdue payments were dependant on cash flow, when what was owed were the direct proceeds from the sale of artworks.

“I can see how it looks that simple, it’s just the reality is more complex.”

“From a business point of view, we don’t pay artists until the following month after the exhibition, and in the meanwhile we have [a number of payments] to make […] What is really common with small businesses is that that money goes elsewhere, and you kind of just hope that in the meanwhile we have a good month and can pay everything. When cash flow is really tight, something bears the brunt of that.”

Holohan was confident that the issues in communication were due to her personal trip, which would not be an issue now that she had returned.

However, when asked about an incident involving poor communication with another artist between 2013–2016, she said it was “hard to comment on that without knowing who it was in particular.”

Matchbox Studios had agreed to stock some of Jane’s* prints and cards in 2013. She said that, over a three year period, she had to “chase Matchbox up” multiple times to see if things had been sold and to organise payment.

“There were many times Cherry failed to reply to emails, then I found out she’d been overseas, but I would’ve thought whoever was running the shop in her absence should be at least replying saying she’s away.”

Although the artists from the 2017 exhibitions have since been paid, they remained “deeply unhappy” with the way the process has been handled.

Holohan said that, while it was not financially viable offer the artists monetary compensation, she was “looking into” other options; such as making the gallery space available to the artists to set up stalls to sell their artworks directly to the public.

However, Alice explained, the gesture would not assist those who had already had a negative relationship with Matchbox Studios. “The real value in this will be that everyone is paid, and the artists exhibiting with Matchbox in the future have their payment agreements honoured on time.”

“I certainly won’t be working with Matchbox, under its current management, again.”


* Not their real names.

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