Supporting artists and creative workers – as part of The response to Culture 2025 on behalf of Visual Artists Ireland.

Supporting artists and creative workers

The Legal Status of the Artist

At present Ireland has no full legal definition on the status of the artist. The only true recognition lies in tax legislation. It is therefore important that Ireland formally adopts primary legislation recognising the legal status of artists and uses this to recognise artists’ rights as professionals and creators.

An overview of this vision (boldly referencing the Canadian Status of the Artist Act S.C. 1992, c. 33 Assented to 1992-06-23) recognises:

  • the importance of the contribution of artists to the cultural, social, economic and political enrichment of Ireland;
  • the importance to Irish society of conferring on artists a status that reflects their primary role in developing and enhancing Ireland’s artistic and cultural life, and in sustaining Ireland’s quality of life;
  • the role of the artist, in particular to express the diverse nature of the Irish way of life and the individual and collective aspirations of Irish citizens;
  • that artistic creativity is the engine for the growth and prosperity of dynamic cultural industries in Ireland; and
  • the importance to artists that they be compensated for the use of their works, including the public lending of them.

The above to be based on:

  • the right of artists and producers to freedom of expression;
  • the right of artists and producers to specific statutory supports;
  • the right of artists to produce in an environment that is respectful and cognitive of the artist as a professional with all of the associated rights;.

Further details

Social Security

Ireland must adopt a specific social insurance regime by which the precarious nature of artists’ lives is recognised and artists are given the opportunity to benefit from social coverage under the same conditions as salaried or self-employed workers with the addition of a sector funded top up for those who currently fail to qualify for automatic assistance due to gaps in payments as a result of their precarious incomes.

There are many complex issues surrounding this as the firm basis of social security is that there is an inherent income stream that supports its implementation. For this reason, and in keeping with other European countries, we propose that a fund is set up similar to the Artists’ Social Insurance Fund in Germany. In keeping with their self-employed status, some artists already pay a percentage towards their social protection cover. It is our suggestion that the balance of this payment, ie the “employers’ share” is made up of all who ‘exploit’ (ie sell, exhibit, commission) the arts in the form of an extra percentage on top of fees and royalties that are paid. This extra percentage then allows for the creation of an equitable system for Statutory Health, Long Term or Old Age Care and Pensions which are currently not automatically a right for artists who may not have sufficient payments in place due to the precarious nature of their work. Further details of this can be found at

Another side effect of this will be the removal of the perception of artists as second class hobbyists as they seek social protection during times of financial difficulty. The recognition provided by legislation on the legal status of the artist as well as this specific provision will go towards the removal of the suggestion that artists are suggested to retrain for more “useful” employment.


If we look clearly at the current status of visual artists in terms of their income and exploitation of opportunities to work, we can see the following statistics

The Social Economic & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland
2008 2011 2013
Earn less than €10,000 from creative work 67% 82.25% 83%
Earn less than €10,000 from creative & non-creative work 33% 55% 64%
Household has been in arrears in past 12 months 24% 42% 57%
Will rely on state pensions for retirement 72% 79% 86%

From the above table you can clearly see that the majority of visual artists in Ireland live under the poverty threshold of €10,425. They depend on second and third jobs to make ends meet, and indeed a large number rely on their partners to support their households. Although, we can clearly see the large percentage who experience debt has significantly increased since we first carried out this survey. It is also important to note the high number who will rely on a state pension when they come to retirement age. Of course, the idea of artists retiring is somewhat at odds with reality as the creativity that spurs them on to occupy this very singular space in our society doesn’t suddenly turn itself off at a pre-determined age. However, we can clearly see the large impact on State coffers in the future as artists are pushed towards relying on Social Protection well into old age.

In another recent survey of visual artists in Ireland, out of a total of 580 selected exhibition opportunities 79.66% could not pay the artist for their participation; 43.3% asked the artist to either pay or contribute to the administration costs of their exhibitions; 77.8% of artists received no fee for education or outreach programmes; and 31.9% received a contribution towards travel expenses for these events. Simply put… Time spent, effort expended, and the process of engaged creativity in the hope of recognition are being exploited. Artists’ desperation for their work to be seen is being used as the perfect opportunity for some galleries, venues, festivals, and other types of events to get something for little if no payment.

We have undertaken an extensive campaign to rectify this situation, working with the Arts Council and several local authorities who provide funding to organisations. We are greatly appreciative that the Arts Council and Dublin City Council, as the first local authority to do so, have undertaken to instruct organisations and events that they fund to ensure that artists are paid in an equitable manner. This support has seen very significant change. However, there is still some resistance from a small minority of organisations. Nevertheless, as this work continues, it is clear that we must ensure that artists are continued to be supported by central government.

Our request is to clearly place in the primary legislation requested above of the artists right to be paid for work that they undertake. It has been questioned in the past as to why an artist would expect to be paid as if they are some form of hobbyist. Therefore, as well as primary legislation we request that a clear directive is sent to each government department, semi-state body, and other funded or government supported bodies, that it is the clear expectation that artists are equitably remunerated for any work that they undertake. The onus must be placed on the commissioning body, or “employer” that they budget in the correct manner and do not reply on untoward pressure that is placed on artists to deliver for free or for some hugely discounted rate ‘if they wish to work’ with such bodies.

It is clear that budgeting ensures that cleaners, electricians, and other workers are paid and yet artists, the very core of our artistic reputation are expected to work either for free or at rates far below those that would be considered equitable or even “market rate”.

Income Averaging

The precarious nature of artists’ income remains a difficult issue. In terms of Revenue Payments, and in keeping with systems already in place for Farmers, Fishermen, and Fisherwomen, we ask that income averaging is introduced. This will allow artists to take into consideration the lean years as well as the years where they may have a higher income. Under the Tax Exemption scheme (and we will discuss this separately), it is only income generated through their creative practice that is eligible. For this reason it is simple to constrain the income averaging in the same way and apply it only to income generated as part of artists’ art practices and the supporting services – ie workshops, outreach programmes etc.

We suggest that this could be rolled out on a phased basis, and it is something optional for artists to sign up for. We suggest that a three year period is set on a rising scale of the percentage that can be offset (30, 60, 100).  We believe that we could investigate that artists who choose to sign up for this are obliged, the same as self-employed people, make a prepayment based on estimates.  “A self-employed person must prepay income tax that will be offset on filing an annual return. The advance payment is determined on the basis of the return made for the previous year. In the event of a new business, the advance will be calculated on the basis of estimates made by the owner of the business.”  The obvious difficulty is that a three year average may include a year of very high income… so this needs a clear investigation as to the best method…

In relation this to the suggestion that the issue of artists and writers leaving the State or becoming non-resident may make this unworkable and referencing existing precedents… Artists are not uniquely mobile as can be evidenced by the movement of Irish farmers to countries such as New Zealand, The Netherlands etc.  In fact, rural areas appear to have a bigger issue than most.  “Ireland has been negatively affected by emigration as a result of the economic downturn in recent years. For example, an estimated 89,000 people emigrated in the year ending April 2013, compared to immigration of 55,900. This has resulted in net emigration of 33,100. By way of contrast in the year ending April 2007, there was estimated net immigration of 67,300. Emigration affects rural areas more than urban areas. According to a September 2013 UCC study, an estimated 27% of rural households have been affected by emigration compared to 15-17% of other households.”

Movement is mainly with EU countries and the US. In terms of the EU, there is close co-ordination of the social security systems “The social security systems of the countries of the European Union (EU) are coordinated. However, social benefits and the conditions under which they are granted are determined at national level, depending on the traditions and culture of each country.”

To achieve this, the artist brings with them documentation to give evidence of their payments in Ireland in the form of various “E” forms… therefore, it can be seen that the artists do not disappear.

It is worth noting that artists return to live in the country and therefore their liabilities, should they not be concluded either prior or during their period outside of the country, do not disappear. In fact, it can be said that there is a high level of traceability due to the EU structures. It is also worth noting that Revenue have links to tax payers bank accounts which provide an additional level of traceability as these are usually provided with forwarding details as a matter of course.

In terms of the US, the form of emigration is critical. In the US and other countries, the level of funds that an individual must have available dictates the form that their migration takes. As can be seen the low levels of income “enjoyed” by artists is so low that it is an exception that long term emigration takes place.

Other forms of Artist Incomes

In Ireland we are still in a precarious position regarding the Resale Right. Auction houses comply, other institutions with secondary sales make life very difficult unless artists are aware that their works have been sold, and there is an on-going lobby to do away with this fundamental right!

It has never been more important for us to ensure that government puts forward primary legislation that clearly defines the role of a compulsory collecting society such as IVARO and the obligation for proper timely reporting and payments.

The current statutory instrument ensures the minimum compliance with EU directives leading it to be as flawed as it is unenforceable … This specific need for action remains a top priority for VAI and IVARO.