That gallery deal seemed like a great thing, didn’t it? They sold work for you so you could concentrate on other parts of your art business. Yes, it’s a cushy situation . . . until they sell the art and don’t pay you.
If you’re not being paid by a gallery you know is making sales, your reaction should depend on the following. (Incidentally, this applies to non-gallery situations, too.)
1. What is the situation?
Is this the first time that you haven’t been paid–a more recent phenomenon? Or is the gallery guilty of chronic nonpayment? The former might reveal that the gallery is having financial problems. While this isn’t a good sign, it’s better than the latter. Chronic nonpayment indicates poor business skills and lack of regard for artists. Artist Kathy Partridge recommends checking a gallery's credit score.
2. What are the terms of your contract?
A contract won’t do you a bit of good if the gallery doesn’t have the money to pay you, but at least you can refer to it in your correspondence or conversation. “Per the terms of our contract, I was to be paid within 30 days of a sale . . . “ If you don’t have a contract with your gallery, get one–even if you have to draft it yourself! I urge you to check out the Professional Guidelines from the Society of North American Goldsmiths (which is useful regardless of the type of work you do).
3. What is your relationship with the gallery?
If they’ve been absolutely wonderful to you, you’re going to respond to nonpayment differently than if they have been unpleasant to deal with. The same is true if you’ve been with them a long time and trust them.
4. How do you envision your future relationship with the gallery?
Do you see this as long-term? Or just a temporary relationship? Are you happy with the direction they're headed? Happy with their space and their staff?
5. How is the gallerist addressing the situation?
Have they been forthright in their response? Or are they avoiding your calls and email? People who hide from their responsibilities get less sympathy from me.
Keep this in mind: Most galleries want to pay their artists and keep them happy. They want to do the right thing. Help them do this while looking out for yourself. More on that in another post.