2004 – 2005 Report: Fees, payments and contracts

It is an unfortunate fact that more often than not artists get a poor deal when it comes to financial arrangements about the showing and presenting of their work. On the issue of fees and payments to artists Visual Artists Ireland is committed to the principle that artists should be paid an acceptable professional rate for the work they undertake as artists. We believe there is a particularly strong case to be made in instances where artists are dealing with organisations that receive significant public funding.

In partnership with the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild and the Association of Irish Composers we have submitted proposals to the Arts Council on measures we hope might address this issue. We have also used the 2005 Arts Council Strategy Review consultation process to highlight this issue. The Arts Council’s new strategy includes commitments to providing stronger guidelines to grant aided organisations regarding their relationship with the individual artist.

The Issue

The following has been developed in partnership with the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild (IPSG) and the Association of Irish Composers (AIC).


Artists should be able to earn as much as possible of their income from their artistic work.  They should be paid well for work that they do, and should be able to share as far as possible in the economic life of the work that they make.

This is not the situation at present.

Artists Income

Most artists earn their primary income from some activity other than the production of art – very often teaching.

It should be a goal of the Arts Council to ensure that the impracticality of earning a reasonable living in the arts does not continue to prevent many artists from producing the best work that they are able to.

Arts Council Funding

The Council has an active programme of funding for artists in many different forms of provision. Bursaries exist to give artists the funding to make work they might not otherwise have been able to make. Cnuas payments for members of Aosdana have been designed to bridge the gap between what artists earn from their work and what they need to survive, freeing them from the need to undertake other non-artistic work.  Income tax exemption improves the prospect that artists earning funds from their work can stretch those funds as far as possible to cover their costs.

These generous and necessary methods of providing support for artists are all predicated on the basic assumption that artists are at present not able to make an adequate income from the sale of their work to an audience. It is our contention that there is more prospect of improving artists’ income from their work than is currently the case.

Artists Access To Audiences

The conduits used by artists to communicate with audiences are almost always institutions and organisations (galleries, theatres, publishers, cinemas, concert halls and so on) many of which are themselves in receipt of Arts Council funds.  The Council properly requires organisation and institutions in receipt of funds to operate legally and to spend the taxpayers funds they have been provided with by the Council on the activities for which they received the money.

A significant percentage of the funds which theses organisations expend goes on payment to individuals. These payments are regulated by law (redundancy act, minimum notice act, etc.) and/or by contract (employment contracts or contracts for service). The key group of participants who are not usually covered by these regulations are artists.

Artists Not Well Paid By Council-Funded Organisations

It is the experience of Visual Artists Ireland, the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild and the Association of Irish Composers that minimal or non-existent payments to artists are commonplace in Arts Council funded organisations.

An artist interested in offering their work for use by an arts organisation starts by submitting slides; scripts; manuscripts, visual arts work all of which cost considerable sums to produce and reproduce and if they are lucky are invited to a meeting which they are expected to attend at their own expense to meet administrators who are in receipt of salaries.

Composers are often expected to write a piece with their fee dependent on a possible Arts Council subsidy. Scriptwriters can be offered one euro for an eighteen month option to acquire their work. Visual artists are regularly asked to waive exhibition fees (when they exist). Publicly funded galleries ask for substantial commission on sales despite the fact that their costs are covered by public funds. Book publishers advances are often not sufficient to cover even the most basic costs of the production of the writing. Playwrights can receive little or no payment up to the point where the play opens.

It is a common perception among artists that they often lose money by participating in arts events meaning in effect that they are subsidising the arts institution involved. There are of course many honourable exceptions to these practices but our contention is that in Arts Council funded organisations this should not happen at all.

Our Position

The following has been developed in partnership with the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild (IPSG) and the Association of Irish Composers (AIC).

It is our position that the Council should require, as a condition of grant aid, that organisations in receipt of significant Arts Council support should ensure that they comply with standards of good practice in their dealings with artists. Such venues, commissioners and organisers should consider it standard practice that arrangements with artists for the commissioning or presentation of their work should be governed by contracts and that professional artists should be paid acceptable fees for the work they undertake as artists and that they should be reimbursed for any reasonable expenses that they incur as a result of any such arrangements.

We believe also that there is a need for some basic minimum and ongoing research into artists living and working conditions. We do not believe that any of the initiatives proposed above require this kind of research before they commence, but such information should be available to the Council as a matter of course to inform all of its policy thinking.

The Campaign

In August 2004 Visual Artist Ireland/Sculptors’ Society of Ireland along with the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild and the Association of Irish Composers submitted the following document to the Arts Council.

The submission was accompanied by a number of support documents including a discussion document outlining the need for updated research and development on the artists Exhibition Payment Right.

At a subsequent meeting with Officers of the Arts Council we were informed that any such proposals would have to be considered in the context of the then upcoming Arts Council Strategy Review.

The above documents were resubmitted as part of the Arts Council Strategy Review in 2005.

Visual Artists Ireland attended at least 10 separate meetings as part of the Arts Councils Strategy Review during the course of 2005 and consistently pushed the issue of artists fees, payments and contracts and the need for ongoing research into the social and economic status of artists.