How risk aversion is impacting insurance for artists

Artists working at heights are the latest to be impacted by the hardening insurance market.

A recent policy adjustment rollback by insurance provider QBE – the second this year – spared thousands of artists working on large-scale murals and public art projects from changes that would have left them uninsured or facing unaffordable premiums.

For over a decade, the insurer has provided a low-cost insurance package currently relied on by almost 3,000 National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) Members and thousands more through a shared group policy administered by arts service organisations, Artsource (WA), Craft (Vic), Craft + Design Canberra (ACT), Flying Arts (Qld), and Guildhouse (SA). 

The changes would have ruled out artists working at heights of more than five metres and seen premiums jump by about $600 for those working at lower elevations. The carve-outs would have effectively prevented artists from doing a majority of public art and mural projects. Concern was shared by public galleries and local government programs where artists must have their own insurance.

Following widespread concern from artists and weeks of negotiations with NAVA and Guildhouse, QBE agreed to retain its insurance coverage for artists working at heights with a new limit of up to 15 meters. Moreover, the $600 extra premium for activities exceeding two meters in height has been replaced with a $1,500 excess for claims involving elevations over five meters. A $1,500 excess is a large amount for many artists and in the event of such a claim, NAVA is looking to provide financial crisis support for Members who need it through the Artists’ Benevolent Fund.

Sydney based artist Helen Proctor recently returned to Australia from living and working in Europe where Public Liability insurance is not required. Before the backflip, Proctor feared she would no longer have been able to get coverage for her murals, most of which are working over five metres.

"I work on all types of murals and this allows me to have a steady income that can then support my family. If I am unable to go above five metres I will lose all the large mural work I do," said Proctor. "To even go above five metres in a lift you need specific qualifications and professional training. To use a lift above 11 metres you need more qualifications and safety training. Elevated Work Platform (EWP) licenses are already a costly thing. The ineligibility and higher premiums will severely impact emerging artists in this profession and ultimately the growth of the industry."

The primary motivation behind QBE’s new working at heights concerns can be attributed to a Safe Work report highlighting a rise in fatalities resulting from work conducted at elevated heights.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) defines working at heights as a high-risk activity and a top three source of fatality injury in Australia. In 2021, Arts and Recreation services ranked in the top ten industries exposed to serious injuries. Importantly, the visual arts, craft and design field falls within the broader Arts and Recreation category, including professional and recreational sports centres, amusement centres, major stage productions, venues, festivals, zoos, botanic gardens, and national parks.

In the last ten years, NAVA has not received a single Public Liability claim for injury related to working at elevated heights. In that time, Public Liability claims by NAVA Members have been limited to just three claims from paint splatter or overspray on nearby cars. Nevertheless, NAVA is committed to demonstrating that artists maintain a high level of safety and activities like mural painting and installing artworks at heights are relatively low-risk endeavours.

As a condition of negotiated amendments to NAVA’s insurance package, Members working over five and up to 15 metres will need to disclose details at the start of each project so QBE can better understand the risk exposure for working at heights. Claims may be declined if a Member does not notify the broker while working above five metres.

NAVA is actively developing strategies to address QBE’s recent mandate, which stipulates increased involvement from artists in documenting their existing practices. This creates an additional administration burden on all stakeholders – artists, the broker, the underwriter, and administrators such as NAVA.

With approximately 6,000 Members across the six organisations providing this package, it is likely there is one or more Member working above five metres on a daily basis. This inevitably leads to a substantial increase in administrative work and it is crucial that the expenses associated with gathering and managing this data do not burden the artists financially.

NAVA is appealing to the government for new funding to support the development of a simple tech solution for all Members of the organisations that share the insurance group policy. We are currently in negotiations with providers to assess requirements and costs with focus on appeasing the insurer that artists and arts workers are compliant with safe work methods.

These changes are the latest in a series of policy adjustments since November 2022. In April 2023, QBE similarly performed a policy backflip over changes that would have reduced coverage and products for artists who use kilns and tools or equipment that produce an open flame and those who sell or present work at market stalls and art fairs.

Large-scale street murals and public art are some of the most accessible forms of visual art. As they continue to grow in popularity, so does the reliance on affordable and adequate insurance. 

This discounted insurance package has been instrumental in supporting the careers of Australian visual artists, craft and design practitioners, serving as a foundation for public galleries, local government art programs, festivals, and other projects that depend on artists and independent arts workers having insurance coverage. NAVA is grateful to QBE for the significant influence this insurance continues to have on work and practice and we eagerly anticipate resolving outstanding issues with the policy and enhancing our ongoing partnership.

Image credit

Helen Proctor painting Screechy Boi through the Gully in Springwood as part of Stomping Ground Festival 2022. Photo by Damien Milan.

ID: Photo of a person wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans, smiling as they paint a colourful mural with a paint brush. In their other hand they are holding a paint bucket.

How risk aversion is impacting insurance for artists