Monday, October 11, 2010

Wait! Did I ever tell you about the time I got stuck in customs for 5 hours?

So, me being lost in Balloch for 5 hours has a partner story back in the states!

Two days after coming back to the U.S... I got stuck for 5 hours trying to transport artwork to a three person show in Sarnia.

Day 1: Unpack, edit my Fulbright's Project statement and personal statement then send my finished Fulbright packet to Michigan State. Also finish my application to the Glasgow School of Art (technically I hadn't finished either of them, but I pretended the whole time that I had finished it!)
Day 2: Bring artwork up to Sarnia for the show at Susan Kristjansson Gallery, easy show, mostly older work. Refinish some of the frames and re-frame some of the works... And when I get a chance finish getting letters of rec.
Day 3: Finish a new work of art for District VII, and meet up with my 'intern' to go over what to do next.
Day 4: Work for Vitamin Water, possibly put up my first pages in a while,

So perhaps I was trying to do to much? That's when this happened:

(Doo doo doo, got my passport on me still... hopefully traffic into Canada's not too bad)
What brings you to Canada today?
I'm going to a gallery!
Is that your artwork?
Yup! I'm an artist.
Will you be selling it?
Well, not me, but the gallery most likely will, I mean hopefully.
Ok, do you know how much all the artwork is worth?
Um... I don't know, I'm bringing a friend's artwork too, I think like $10,000?

At this point the border guard's eyebrow raised, which begins the sinking feeling in my gut that didn't hit me before even though one of my paintings was so big that it was resting on my headrest, partially careening over my head as I drove, probably it's own kind of safety hazard.

Wait, do I have to claim this or something?
You're doing it right now. (hands me a yellow piece of paper with notes scribbled on it that I have artwork worth 10,000 dollars.) Go over and park over there, they'll tell you whatever you need to complete the claim.

Um... well, ok.

First I parked then was told to talk with customs, they told me some crazy forms involved getting a 'bond' or something that even they doubted I would be able to get since I was an individual shipping artwork, blah blah blah, you're not supposed to be here, talk to S. M. Hewitt, they could help you.

This would allow me to leave my artwork unattended and for sale. At this point it was too late to say otherwise... Like, oh never mind it's not for sale... and oh... no I don't plan to leave the artwork in Canada.

 I don't even really know what happened, but this one lady who perhaps oversaw S.M. Hewitt, figured that I didn't know how to help myself so began getting out some gigantic binders to look some things up. During this time she sighed a lot and gave me these long looks that seemed to say, you have no idea what your getting yourself into kid. She summoned me into her office after I had to call and get Ian's inventory for all of his artwork to come through the mail, more awkward waiting...
It came through and she begins clicking and typing blazing fast. She was clicking the calculator, downloading forms, typing things in, re-checking numbers, getting things photocopied together, then stapling packets together and said to me very simply:

This form is what you will give to the U.S. side.
I'll show you where commercial goods come in, you give this to them on the Canadian side they'll know what to do with it. Also I'm kicking you back to the States to get this form filled out because otherwise they'll hassle you on the way back to the States for having a bunch of artwork in your car that you didn't have before. You're going to need to get this stamped before you get back into Canada. Goodluck.

The commercial customs officer all decked out in a bullet-proof vest, replaced my yellow tag with one that said I was being told to go back to the States due to incomplete paperwork and thus began an hour of waiting in line to get back to the States and back in. He let me know that he'll probably be gone by the time I get back and that I should drive in the truck lane (which is much slower) so that I'm right by their office to get everything cleared. Here's the kicker, when I come back, I'll be expected to pay 10% of the total value of the artwork as a deposit. The artwork at this point has been figured to be valued at 14,200.

Just so you know, it makes no sense, you have to TELL the lady that you give your 3 dollars to or whatever that you're trying to get to Customs. She'll then tell you to park your car right off to the side (there's only like 4 spots so that seems a little strange.) then you actually have to cross the lanes that the trucks use to get to the building. She radioed the people over in that building that I was on my way over and then told me to make eye contact with the truck drivers first to make sure it's safe to cross. It's 5 lanes wide, no kidding. I nervously mumble to the officers standing around that I have to get something stamped and they let me get in line. The line takes about an hour to get through with just 4 people in line, but I'm reading little bits of information, like how on an average, the homeland security intercepts 40,000 or so pounds of drugs. I'm watching a couple argue with an accent about how they didn't realize that the girlfriend had overstayed and wasn't allowed to come into Canada let alone be in the US. I just sat patiently in the room once it was my turn to sit and wait. It is something I feel like I've been training myself for years, accepting fate rather than getting upset. Another officer has my keys at this point probably counting the paintings and possibly trying to assess my ability to price my artwork? He gives it a little stamp and I'm back on my way on the bridge only 3 1/2 hours later! I get into Canada, I've paid to go over the bridge 3 times now, I get a new yellow note (they guy even recognizes me and my car and says, weren't you just here?) and I get stopped by a guard because I got out of my car too quickly and after she scanned the many documents over that I had been given over these few hours, I was allowed to go in and... wait with the other truckers. Handed off my paperwork when someone realized that I was standing in their lobby, I waited until my name was called and the same guy who said he was going to have left already, was still there.

I thought you were going to get to leave?
Well, I went to go do something else and so now I'm back.
Let's talk a walk, where's your car?
This one over here on this side.
Is this going to that new art center?
No, this is actually a new gallery in Sarnia, the one you're talking about is still being built.
Oh ok, well, I like art and you probably don't have thousands of dollars on you, so let's just say that it's great that you're bringing artwork into Canada and I don't want to cramp your style, and there's all these new tax laws that are changing so, you did all the right paperwork, but we'd have to do even more, so let's just say that it's not in either of our interests to go this route, ok?

And at that, he wished me good luck on selling a lot of art, took my little yellow piece of paper from me, and waved me goodbye.

Here's where my life lessons are shared with you! Read carefully and let's compile tips for easily moving art across borders without hassle!
  • Don't bring artwork that looks like artwork or like weapons or like... anything valuable.
  • If your artwork DOES look valuable or if there's too much to hide like in my case, print out a Certificate of Registration from the Department of Homeland Security, CBP Form 4455. Attach a sheet of paper that has all of the information about the artwork (this is important to prove that you did not 'purchase' the artwork while in Canada but you're just bringing it back so that you don't get hassled on the way back to the United States.)

  • Do not say that your artwork is for sale, if anything, call it what it is, priceless artwork, in other words: Cultural Exchange. 
  • Do not say your artwork is leaving your supervision. It's going to stay in your car, right?
  • Call ahead to find out what appropriate forms you'll need, I can't find them right now because I wanted to put all of this behind me, and so I don't have all the specific forms I was given to give to the Canadian side of the border.
  • Have your gallery arrange the acceptance of the artwork, if they have to pay a deposit, it should be their money, not yours. Large galleries probably have a broker of some kind.
  • So perhaps... Ship the artwork if you can. Or appraise your work at a very low price, hell, get it notarized or approved by some kind of appraisal professional to help legitimize how cheap it is.
Even when all is said and done, I did all the appropriate steps and it really comes down to the fact that you either get someone who doesn't care that you have artwork in your car, and someone that is easily suspicious and has this idea ringing in their head that your artwork is cause for alarm. It's possible that had I not been so calm, I would have had to put up that 1,420 dollars or the show would not have happened at all.


LolaPeg said...

I have to tell you, my experience was a little different than yours. The Canadians did not mention what I need to get it back into the states, so I am glad that you have. I also had to pay a 5% tax on the Canadian side that I can apply to get back if it does not sell. They gave me a booklet that tells me how to get set up as a commercial entity, to make it easier.
I'm not sure if it will ever be easy, though. And, I bet it depends on who is minding the border on a given day as to what goes down.

max said...

you should try being from outside the U.S i.e Australia and carry art work in its much easier to freight it in