There are fears Australian artists may be left unable to work on large-scale and public art projects, as insurance giant QBE prepares to make another round of carve-outs to a policy held by thousands of artists.
QBE will no longer cover artists working at heights of more than five metres, and those working at lower heights face extra premiums of up to $600 per annum.
The carve-outs would effectively prevent artists doing public art and mural projects or installing their own work in galleries, according to Penelope Benton from the National Association for the Visual Arts (Nava).
She said the changes are devastating for many of the 6,000 artists who rely on the insurance policy.
“What it will mean is there’s just a lot less work happening, particularly mural work, which has been thriving for several years,” she said.
The carve-outs would also affect professional art installers, and emerging artists and curators, who generally install their own work.
QBE began imposing a series of carve-outs to the $316 a year policy in November 2022, with the new height restriction limitations to apply from October.
Nava has supplied the widely held policy for artists through QBE for more than a decade, and in that time there has not been a single public liability claim related to working at heights, said Benton.
Artist Texta Queen recently finished a four-metre-high mural in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir, one of five giant public artworks installed for the Darebin festival Fuse.
“Feeling a Fervour for a Fertile Future” features pomegranates, a fruit with symbolism across Asia and the Middle East where many residents hail from.
Texta Queen safely used a scissor lift to paint the highest parts, but fears changes to their policy will leave them unable to do similar projects in future.
“If it happens, it’ll be terrible … I guess I would have to look into probably more expensive insurance,” Texta Queen said.
These types of policies are vastly more expensive because they are designed for construction workers such as scaffolders, who work at heights every day.
Because projects like Texta Queen’s mural don’t happen often, the extra premiums would mean the insurance is no longer affordable for many, Benton said.
“The insurance will cost more than they’ll be earning for the gig, which will mean a lot of people will just not do it,” she said. “Many are just going to be completely priced out of insurance and alternatives are usually a lot more than triple the price.”
Public and commercial galleries, as well as council projects, rely on artists having their own insurance, according to Benton.
She fears the policy changes will see more artists and arts workers leave the sector because it won’t be feasible for them to pursue a career.
QBE Insurance and broker Local Community Insurance Services have been contacted for comment.