Safekeeping Your Business and Artistic Records

by Miguel Guillen, Artist Resources Manager, Artist Trust, Seattle

“Good recordkeeping + safe storage = peace of mind”

No person, no workspace, no area is immune from disaster. Be it natural or otherwise, disaster can happen at any time, any place. After a disaster, recovery can be difficult, but it is possible.

To varying degrees, most things such as artwork and workspace can be replaced or recreated — most things, that is, except important, original, career-related records, such as exhibition or performance documentation, slides, digital images and historical data. Good recordkeeping saves time in normal, day-to-day activity — but can be a career-saver after a personal emergency or major disaster.

Vital records and documents should be duplicated (better yet, make triplicates), and the copies (print or electronic) should be stored in multiple locations (we’ll discuss that a bit more later in this article). Consider this rule of thumb: in the event of a disaster, what records would you need to assure continuity of your art career/business if you had to suddenly set up shop somewhere new?

Start by identifying:

1. Vital Records and Documents

These are paper and/or digital records that are not your art itself but are essential to your art career. (Many relief programs that provide assistance for artists will require documentation of your career.) These records may include:

Career-related documents

  • Résume

  • Artist statement & bios

  • Work samples (slides, digital images, recordings, tapes, DVDs, CDs, scores, etc.)

Business-related documents

  • Contracts and agreements (sales, licensing, commission, loan, consignment)

  • Invoices and receipts

  • Current working documents (budgets, applications, image files, etc.)

  • Visual documentation of your studio (photo or video)

  • Artwork valuation (bills of sale or appraisal)

  • Correspondence (electronic and hardcopy)

  • Financial records (accounting and payroll)

  • Tax records (property, income, sales)

  • Inventory

  • Legal documents

  • Lists of suppliers and vendors (including shippers)

  • List of contacts (collectors, customers, agents, gallery owners, art dealers, show producers, etc.)

Archival materials

  • Notes relating to your creative process

  • Grant applications and awards

  • Correspondence

  • Press

  • Flyers, postcards, catalogs, chapbooks, one-of-a-kind or last-of items, etc.

  • Portfolios

  • Releases

2. Safe Storage (Physical)

a. In your studio or workshop, store documents, discs and removable data-storage devices in fireproof, waterproof, portable storage containers (for examples, google “fireproof container”).

Have two sizes of safe containers: one, possibly larger, for archival materials that you would like to keep but are not necessarily vital to the continuity of your career/business; and a second, smaller container that you can easily pick up and take with you in an emergency. This smaller container — we’ll call it a “quick-grab recovery archive” — will contain all the career- and business-related documents you would need to restart your livelihood after a disaster.

Staying organized and setting criteria for selecting what is (and is not) essential is paramount to creating a functional archive of crucial data that will be quickly and easily accessible and manageable during a crisis. To keep this information updated, schedule a monthly inventory of the items you’re storing, and determine their relevance. Keep your most up-to-date information in this “quick-grab recovery archive,” rotating items out as they become obsolete to your recovery strategy.

b. In a Safe Offsite Location (SOL), store a second set. An SOL is a place to store copies of your documents and records that is far enough away from your studio (50-100 miles) that it is unlikely to be affected by the same disaster. This might be with a family member, trusted friend, contracted service, or your Disaster Buddy.

Read a Studio Protector Blog about creating an archive of photographic materials>

3. Safe Storage (Digital)

Here is a basic strategy for protecting your computer-stored data. For more, see Backing up Your Computer: the Basics.

a. Buy two removable hard drives, each with enough data storage space for projects you're currently working on, plus data important to your career. Clearly label these “Drive One” and “Drive Two.” Back up your files to Drive One and store it somewhere safe and away from your workspace (if possible, choose a remote location that is at least 50 miles from your workspace).

Develop and stick to a backup schedule that reflects the frequency with which you alter your work and/or create new records. The next time you back up, use Drive Two. Copy everything you did before, plus any new work and documentation; then take Drive Two to your storage place and swap it with Drive One.

Follow this procedure of swapping out the drives so that the one in safe storage always contains your most current information. 

b. CD/DVD backup or removable hard drive:

If buying two removable hard drives is cost prohibitive, consider investing in one removable drive that you take home with you, store remotely or keep in your “quick-grab recovery archive.” At minimum, buy CDs or DVDs and copy your most up to date information onto them. Label the disks (date, data menu, etc.) and take them home or store them in your quick-grab archive. Replace these according to the guidelines previously outlined, making sure your data disks are current.

c. Online backup:

Online backup service is an option for automating the duplication and storage of your digital records. Online backup is the transfer of data directly from your computer to a remote storage facility via a phone line, cable or wireless connection. Online backup works best if you have a high-speed internet connection that can transfer large amounts of data without interruption.

Look carefully at the various companies that offer online backup service, to find one that offers the best suite of services for your needs and budget. Online backup is different from storing your images and information to a website or online service such as a registry, gallery, hosting site or social networking site. The main difference will be in the resolution of images and work samples you may have uploaded. Most uploaded work samples to the types of sites mentioned are low-resolution, to accommodate quick user download (72dpi jpgs are most common for images). Low-resolution work is not optimal for archival/recovery purposes, since you cannot successfully resize low-resolution images.

When storing work samples for archival/recovery purposes, raw or high-resolution format files with as little compression as possible are best. These tend to be large files, so remote storage of these files can help save space on your computer as well as be a vital part of a disaster recovery program.

Online backup services are convenient and are quickly becoming more affordable. Some companies that provide online backup services are:  


SOS Online Backup


Be ready and stay safe!


Recordkeeping Resources

Free CERF+ Inventory Templates for Artists.

  • CERF+ has created Excel spreadsheets for creating inventories of studio assets and art works. They are posted here as a compressed (zip) file, so you can download them with the file structure for adding images to the inventory. The files are in both .xls and the newer .xlsx fromats-pick which one you need and delete the other.  Instructions are included in one of the worksheets.  Feel free to modify the spreadsheet as needed, but if you pass on a copy to someone, please send them here or give them the original copy.  Be sure to keep a backup of the spreadsheet and image file in the cloud or another Safe Off-site Location! Download

“Getting Your Sh*t Together” sells artist management software at

Crawford, Tad. Business and Legal Forms for Fine Artists, fourth ed. Allworth Press, 2014. Accompanying CD has 22 forms to customize. Crawford has produced two similar guides with CDs:
  • Business and Legal Forms for Crafts, 2005
  • Business and Legal Forms for Photographers, 2002.

Grant, Daniel. The Business of Being an Artist, fifth ed. Allworth Books, 2015.

Smith, Constance and Viders, Sue. Art Office, Second Edition. Artnetwork, 2007.
80-plus business forms, charts, sample letters, legal documents and business plans.