Art ownership at the University remains unclear

Art ownership at the University remains unclear

Craig Wedderspoon’s metal sculpture, “Fast,” remained partially intact after the 2011 tornado. Photo courtesy of Craig Wedderspoon

Craig Wedderspoon, associate professor of art and sculpture at The University of Alabama, lost his metal sculpture, “Fast,” in the tornado on April 27, 2011. Wedderspoon said the piece flew more than a mile and traveled around 120 mph.

“It turns out it ended up being extremely fast,” Wedderspoon said.

Like all tenure-track University professors, Wedderspoon is expected to do research as part of his job. For art professors, Wedderspoon said that means creating works of art.

Professors may choose to apply for outside grants to help fund their research. In a case where a professor doesn’t have a grant, he or she may have to fund the project. Wedderspoon said he spent $10,000 out of pocket on “Fast.” Even though he paid for the sculpture, Wedderspoon said the University could lay claim to it.

“Anytime faculty conducts research, it’s owned by the University,” Wedderspoon said.

If the University owned his piece, no matter who paid for it, the insurance money could go to the University. When he discovered the piece was destroyed, Wedderspoon said he realized his piece was insured through the University because it was part of his research. If he made a claim through the University, he feared the University would receive the insurance money.

Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, visited Wedderspoon to see the sculpture soon after the tornado. After hearing his story, Wedderspoon said Olin was sympathetic.

“Dean Olin said, ‘Why don’t we see if we can do anything about it?’ ” Wedderspoon said.

Olin gave Wedderspoon a $10,000 research grant from the College of Arts and Sciences to help him recover financially.

Olin said there are grant opportunities for artists, but not as many as for professors in the sciences.

“Craig is a very industrious hard worker,” Olin said. “He would rather do the art, I think, than go around looking for money.”

Olin’s opinion differed from Craig’s, however, in that he said that if a professor pays for his or her own materials, the University doesn’t lay claim to it.

“If the University puts money into anything, they own it,” Olin said. “That’s the state. What is interesting is, if a chemist gets a grant and they buy a computer or something else, the grant is not to the individual. Funding agents write it to The University of Alabama. Anything that’s bought off of grant money belongs to The University of Alabama. In Craig’s particular situation, since it was all Craig’s money, The University didn’t 
claim ownership.”

University Relations specialist Chris Bryant said that, with few exceptions, the art is owned by the artist unless a grant document provides otherwise, as governed by UA copyright policy. Exceptions to the policy are outlined in the sidebar.

UA Director of Risk Management Bob Pugh said a piece of art has to be at a scheduled location for insurance through the University to apply to 
the situation.

“In Craig’s case, we didn’t know about it, didn’t have it scheduled, so it wasn’t covered,” Pugh said. “My view of it is the time belongs to the University. He spent a lot of University time on it.”

Pugh said the problem with the insurance of art is the insurance company and the artist never agree on the value of the art. An art professor’s art may not be worth as much as a well-respected
artist’s art.

“From a practical standpoint, it’s not worth more than what people are willing to pay for it,” 
Pugh said.

Pugh said in order to ensure a piece is insured, there has to be a contract drawn up.

“If we ever had a notable event involving an art professor, we’re going to go into the conference room and try to figure out a solution,” Pugh said.

Wedderspoon said the confusion of art ownership and insurance at the University is a serious issue. His goal is to create a contract that will outline the ownership and worth of notable art created by art professors.

“When you lose art, who is it really affecting?” Wedderspoon said. “Not only does it [losing the art] destroy art, but also an icon and part of culture.”

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