Bahamian artists are pushing for a new wave of support for an online petition asking the government to remove duty on art supplies.
The petition, launched last year, is seeking to reach a goal of 750 signatures. Currently 486 people have signed on. It requests that the government remove the 45 per cent duty on a wide range of art supplies and equipment.
The 45 per cent tariff is charged on all craft products, including clay, paint brushes, paint, paper, sketch books, canvas and boards.
This hefty duty is financially stifling Bahamian artists, according to advocates, and its removal should be seriously evaluated. Artisans should be considered manufacturers, small businesses, and cottage industries, several artists told Tribune Art.
“I think the government is very short-sighted when they stick duty on items. They don’t ask whether or not it makes sense. I can’t buy what I need over here. I am forced to buy from the United States. I have to buy things in bulk because it does not even make sense to buy things in parts. At one point I did not even know how I was going to get my supplies. I could afford to purchase them but I can’t afford to bring them in because the duty is so high,” said ceramists Katrina Cartwright.
The artist said this duty affects all businesses selling products made by ceramists and to an extent it also affects tourism.
“Ceramists are asked by different businesses to produce mass amounts of products so they can sell in their stores. Because supplies are so expensive we have to charge a lot for our artwork. The businesses then have to charge high for the products. These are the same stores tourists go into to purchase art. But when they see a little piece of ceramic work costing so much they do not want to buy it. Realistically the government is doing small business a disservice and to a small extent that impacts tourism. Visual arts is part of our culture, but the government does not contribute or support us enough,” she said.
Pam Burnside, owner of Doongalik Studios Art Gallery, agrees that 45 per cent is far too much to charge artists for supplies.
“It would be a very good thing if they removed the duty from art supplies. Some of the artist in the field are already struggling, so having to pay so much for the art supplies is difficult. I can see them charging 10 per cent duty on the items but 45 per cent is too much. On top of that there are only a few people who sell supplies in the Bahamas so the artists are just limited,” said Mrs Burnside.
Ceramist Jessica Colebrooke said many of her Florida suppliers closed down when the US economy sank, forcing her to go as far as California to get supplies. At one point, she said, she felt like calling it quits.
“For a long time they have treated artists as though they do not matter. These are the same persons who come to you looking for donations. Like the old people say ‘hand come hand go.’ But this is something the government should take into serious consideration,” she said.
If artists had better access to equipment, visual artist Arjuna Watson said they would be better able to produce quality work.
“It is expensive. I brought in paper the other day and they charged me 50 per cent duty on the paper. It would be really good if they removed the duty. I think if we had access to more materials the quality of our work would improve. At times I am reluctant to throw things away because they are so expensive. After you purchase your material when it is time to clear customs you are paying for the items about two or three times. Everyone is jumping on the art bandwagon, but they need to put their money where their mouth is and support us.”
By Jeffarah Gibson
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011