Why You Need Insurance As An Artist

Artists are entrepreneurs, and when you earn money as an artist, the income makes you a small business owner, too. Business owners need insurance to protect their businesses. So, if art is your biz, trust us, you need insurance. 

We’re not trying to sell you anything — just raising an issue you may not have considered. So, why would you need insurance? Simply put, to protect you and protect your clients. From health insurance to car insurance, it all exists to protect you if and when something goes wrong. And while all of us are prone to thinking nothing bad will ever happen, it can be financially devastating if it does. 

We’ve unfortunately seen a few projects where everyone was trying to be careful, but things still went sideways. On one of our projects, an artist was carefully spraying a basecoat for an outdoor mural, having protected all nearby surfaces. But a breeze carried paint droplets across the street and into a parking garage, where it landed on cars. That wasn’t a fun call for either of us to get —thankfully there was insurance.

There are all sorts of ways artists can find themselves on the hook financially if something goes wrong. Maybe you’re at greater risk because you’re working around expensive equipment that could be damaged in an accident. Maybe a spill creates a slip-and-fall liability, or someone walks into a ladder. Things happen!

The Clients You Want to Work with Require Insurance
You could get lucky. Maybe nothing like that will ever happen to you. But the thing is, the type of high-quality companies that commission large-scale public art will require you, as a contractor, to carry insurance. It will be in the contract you have to sign before work begins. And even if you’re working under a company like Muros or a gallery, you aren’t protected by their insurance as a subcontractor and will need your own. 

Many artists just don’t have insurance, so to fulfill this requirement, they sometimes buy a one-off special events policy from a boutique insurance carrier to cover the period of time they’re on a particular job. But this can add up and an annual policy by a standard insurance carrier can end up being much more cost effective.

Let’s Get Started: Q&A’s to Get You Going
So what do you need? To help you get started, we’re sharing some tips and insurance lingo to get you the most effective policy, at the best rates, which should cover 99% of the jobs you take on. 

Q: What kind of insurance do I need?
A: Without question, you want a General Commercial Liability (GCL) Policy. This is the main type of insurance most individual artists need. Whether you’re a sole proprietor, or you’ve formed your own LLC or Corporation, this is the policy to get. 

Q: What limits should I request?
A: The typical limits for a Commercial General Liability policy that are needed for a mural project are $2 million dollars in aggregate and $1 million per occurrence. When contacting an insurance company for a quote, ask for this amount. 

Q: Are there any other types of policies I may encounter and/or need?
A: Most often the two additional types of insurance that will be requested for a contractor doing work at a property are Workers Compensation [& Employer Liability] and Automobile Liability insurance. 

Workers Compensation & Employer Liability insurance are typically listed as statutory, meaning you need to understand local laws and exemptions. In most states, business owners are exempt from this so if you’re the only person working in your company, you don’t need it and can inform the client of this. If you have employees, you should have this insurance. 

Automobile Liability is typically referring to anyone driving a commercial vehicle to the job site, versus a personal vehicle. If the former does not apply, you likely do not need this insurance. Just ask the Client to confirm this to be true if auto insurance is requested. 

Q: My contract says I need much higher rates or an additional umbrella policy? That sounds expensive … what do I do?
A: Negotiate. At Muros, we negotiate this with our clients at the onset, on the artist’s behalf. But you can do this too. Oftentimes contracts for subcontractors are a one size fits all approach so having the conversation about the size of the job, type of work you’re doing and so on, can help you bring the levels down to those stated above. If that doesn’t work, we suggest asking the client to cover the insurance (if it’s a smaller job) or increase the compensation for the project given the high cost. The majority of the time, clients are willing to accomodate.

Q: I’ve been asked for a COI, what is it?
A: A COI stands for Copy of Insurance. This is something you will request from your insurance provider for each project/client. It’s typically a single piece of paper that outlines your business and all it’s coverage including coverage dates. A hard copy or electronic version is typically provided to the client in advance of the project launch. 

Generally, you will find these parties will request to be added as the “Certificate Holder.” To do so, provide the name of the business entity and the physical address to your insurance provider when you submit the request. Occasionally, they may require a copy of the contract which proves the need to provide a COI. 

Q: What do Additional Insureds mean and how do I add them?
A: In many instances, clients or landlords will request they (and any related business entities they own) be added as “Additional Insureds.” This means that if something were to happen at your mural site, your insurance can be extended to them to cover any damage and associated costs incurred to. To have these added to your COI, we’ve provided a sample email of what to send to your insurance company below. Note the “language” (i.e. what needs to be included in the COI) is usually in your contract so you can copy and paste that into your email. 

PRO TIP: A COI will only have one Certificate Holder and may contain many Additional Insureds. The Certificate Holder always requires a physical address to be provided. If your contract does not specify these details (strangely, they often don’t), ask your client to clarify which entity is the Certificate Holder, what physical address should be used for it, and how the Additional Insureds should be listed. Sometimes they will also provide a “sample COI” which you can send to your insurance provider as a format reference. 

Hi [Insurance Provider Name],
Please provide me with a COI for the following client which I will be performing services for next month.
Certificate Holder:
Company XYX
123 Main Street
Cityville, NY 12345
Additional Insureds (Listed under Description of Operations):
Company A, Inc.; Company B, LLC, Company D, Inc., and it’s direct and indirect parents and subsidiaries and current or future director, officer, employee, partner or agent of any of them as the “Additional Insureds”
If you have any questions or need a copy of the contract, please let me know.

Q: I’m being asked to cover a lot of Additional Insureds and it’s soooo expensive! Now what??
A: Very large companies may list several to dozens of additional insureds. Depending on your insurance provider, there may be a “per additional insured” cost. If this is the case, ask about pricing and options to add an unlimited amount of additional insureds each year. Oftentimes you can obtain this for about $100 annually and it’ll save you lots of money in the long run. 

Q: What about my assistant? How does that work?
A: It’s the same story. If you bring an assistant to a job site (a subcontractor to you), they also need insurance. If they aren’t an actual employee of yours, which would be covered by your Workers Compensation policy, then they need their own policy. They will also need to provide a COI and match any insurance requirements that exist in your contract. 

Q: Since I’m an artist, should I go to a speciality artist insurance provider?
A: We’d suggest not—at a minimum, shop around. While there may be instances where you need specialized policies (sculptures, installations, etc. can be different), in most cases where you really just need a Commercial General Liability policy, your standard insurance carrier is probably the best bet. 

In fact, we’ve seen specialized insurance providers offering quotes that are 3-4 times more expensive than the “big guys” whom you probably already work with for renters insurance, car insurance, homeowners insurance and so on. 

Q: So what’s this ultimately going to cost?
A: Honestly, not that much. Again, reach out to a couple of the more common insurance providers to see what they quote you. You will likely end up with an annual rate somewhere between $300 to $500 per year if you go with a larger insurer. If that’s a big up front cost, you can always ask to make monthly payments throughout the year (e.g. $25 – $40/month),  just like you do with your car or renter’s insurance. 

I’m convinced — anything else I should know?
Take the time now to get insurance and buy an annual policy for the best deal. That way, when you get commissioned work, you’ll be all set so you can focus on the art. As an artist and a business owner, you’ll need a policy when you take on a new job anyway, and having your own coverage signals your professionalism and attention to detail to clients. 

As Andy Warhol said (ironically or seriously or both), “art is really a business.” So protect your business with artist insurance — it just makes good business sense. 

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