27/03/2012: Addressing the staffing deficit within the cultural sector

It is not new that characteristics of the cultural sector are long hours, reduced staffing, reliance on volunteers; and free internships.  But we would argue that this cannot be seen as a sustainable model. Therefore, we feel that this is the time for us to step forward with a plan, within existing structures and financial constraints, which will go towards maintaining vibrancy which is evidence of the investment made to date by the Arts Council.  Also, we take into consideration Ireland’s role as a signatory of the 1980 UNESCO Agreement on the Status of the Artist Sections VI.1.c, VI.1.d and VI.1.e  which outlines a commitment given:

“VI. Employment, working and living conditions of the artist; professional and trade union organizations
1. Being aware of the need to improve the social recognition of artists by according them the moral and material support required to remedy their difficulties, Member States are invited to:
(d) identify remunerative posts which could given to artists without prejudice to their creativity, vocation and freedom of expression and communication, and in particular:
(i) give artists opportunities in the relevant categories of the educational and social services systems at national and local levels and in libraries, museums, academies and other public institutions…”

As the economic supports available to the arts have declined, there has been a direct impact on the way that cultural organisations work. Although we can see vibrancy in the outward projection of the arts, organisations are struggling to achieve their goals through, amongst other things, a lack of qualified staffing.

Parallel to this, in our recent survey (December 2011), we have seen a significant drop in artists incomes.

2008 Survey 2011 Survey
Earn less than €10,000 from creative work 67% 82.25%
Earn less than €10,000 from creative & non-creative work 33% 55%
Household has been in arrears in past 12 months 24% 42%
Will rely on state pensions for retirement 72% 79%

What is clear from these figures, and from other findings in our survey, is the decrease in employment opportunities for artists who have traditionally worked in academia, the cultural sector and other more general industry jobs so as to allow them to pursue their creative careers. Also, we see an increase in artists who live below the poverty line and who are forced to enter the social welfare system.

The system that we are proposing is a simple matching of the two situations. We wish to match institutions with cultural workers who are currently registered as unemployed.  A sample from our recent survey for visual artists indicated a potential pool from the visual arts.

2008 Survey 2011 Survey
Registered for unemployment benefit or assistance in past 5 years. 30% 37.5%
Means tested 47% 71%
PRSI 36% 36%
Experienced variations between different Social Welfare offices 12% 27.7%

Such a system was in existence some years ago but had several issues.  The previous system was aimed at all people registered as unemployed. This caused a very serious mismatch and led to an amount of dissatisfaction on both sides. The difference with the system that we propose is that we suggest the setting up of a specialist scheme, run by a cultural body, who will then manage the employment and career development schemes aimed specifically at cultural workers. In the initial stages this could be operated through the various representative bodies within the cultural sector, with a centralised executive.

There is also potential when the scheme is up and running that it can be extended out to include not only job matching but also to encourage entrepreneurship by the set up of a hothouse for cultural development, based upon the model currently working through local enterprise boards.

To get to this stage we see that the following steps need to be taken:

  1. A survey of not for profit publically funded organisations to identify the deficit that exists in staffing levels.  This will ask them to indicate deficit in current roles, and the deficit in standalone projects that may or may not be underway.
  2. A survey of artists to identify the actual number registered as unemployed, and details required to assess their eligibility for current FÁS back to work schemes.
  3. Create a working group with input from the Department of Social Protection to investigate existing job creation, and further training programmes that can be developed with a specific sectoral focus, such as the Community Employment Programme.
  4. Investigate the best form of governance and management of the scheme with stakeholders from the cultural sector and the Department of Social Protection, and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that will ensure flexibility as well as desirability of the scheme.
  5. Identify key small, medium and large arts organisations to pilot the scheme.
  6. Open the scheme nationally.

This is a simplify approach that will need careful detailed planning and identification of key stakeholders.  However, we feel that the more simple the idea and implementation, the greater the benefits to the sector.

It is important for us to mention that this idea does have some potential pitfalls.  Specifically, it will be important that this scheme does not stop cultural organisations from employing staff in the normal manner. We do not want to reduce the number of jobs available by making it preferable for organisations to use the scheme to fill vacancies. It will be important to ensure that strict criteria are created so that organisations can work with the scheme.

We would like to move this forward by engaging in an open conversation with the Department of Social Protection.  We share a common purpose of wanting to remove artists from the live register. We feel that this will benefit the sector as well as individual artists and organisations.

A similar scheme, albeit with a wider catchment area of unemployed, is in operation in the UK.  The New Deal of the Mind recently published findings that concluded that such schemes:

Focusing on a specific sector brings particular advantages, such as the ability to specialise recruitment so that staff have a particular expertise in the sector, and the ability to get the explicit buy-in of leading employers in the sector (i.e., The National Theatre, The Southbank Centre, London Metropolitan Archives, the British Library, The Royal Court Theatre, Pinewood Studios etc.).

Rather than merely allocating jobs to people out of work, the programme works by matching young people who have a desire to work in the creative and cultural sector with jobs that they otherwise would have been unlikely to be able to access. This appears to create a higher level of commitment to the programme, as demonstrated by the very low drop-out rates.

By focusing on long term career possibilities (for example through networking opportunities and building sector knowledge) as well as short term job skills, the programme raises aspirations and boosts the confidence of participants. This in turn leads to wellbeing benefits that are likely to further boost long term employment prospects.

Interviews and focus groups with a range of stakeholders enabled the identification of a range of benefits, or outcomes. In most cases the scheme had a significant impact on participants’ lives, and in some cases participants outlined how it had totally transformed their prospects. A wide range of potential benefits arose during this process, and they were grouped into the following outcomes:

Economic benefits

  • Increased income for participants
  • Increased capacity and improved performance for employers
  • Well-being outcomes for participants.
  • Improved well-being for participants and their families.