VAN March/April 2013: Moving Beyond Token Fees


NOEL KELLY, CEO OF VISUAL ARTISTS IRELAND, REPORTS ON HOW THE FINDINGS OF VAI’S SURVEY ON PAYMENTS FOR VISUAL ARTISTS SHOW THE DIRECT RESULTS OF THE CUTTING OF PUBLIC FUNDING FOR THE ARTS. 

“It is a good opportunity for you to have your work seen”

“We aren’t in a position to give you a fee but we would like to show your work”

“We can offer you a token gesture”

These types of statements have become more and more familiar as artists are approached to show their work in exhibition spaces. They have become clichés, and with them comes an expectation of understanding about the plight that venues find themselves in. This is not a new phenomenon but, in recent years, the payment of artists for their contribution to the national exhibition programme has sharply decreased.

With this decrease, Visual Artists Ireland has seen an increase in the number of artists contacting us with stories of being expected to deliver exhibitions and other events such as talks and education programmes either for free or with just their travel expenses covered. It is obvious that this mode of practice is not only inequitable but also fails to recognise the professionalism of visual artists. It has lead to an increase in the number of artists living under the poverty line, or seeking to create new lives either outside of Ireland, or outside of the visual arts sector as a whole.

Survey

In October, November and December 2012, Visual Artists Ireland undertook a survey to look at the reality of artists being paid for work and exhibitions. In total, 147 artists who are actively exhibiting completed the survey. The survey took into consideration exhibitions and work in Ireland both in publically funded not for profit spaces as well as the commercial sector.

Not for Profit Sector


In terms of exhibitions in the not for profit sector, this equated to 781 exhibition opportunities realised. We use this term as different artists may have appeared in the same exhibition. The survey asked artists to give details of the exhibition fee that they received from their top five shows in the year.

Top Five


A total of 580 exhibition opportunities were captured in the artists’ top five exhibitions. 79.66% of these provided no fee to the artist for their participation. Further figures indicated that production costs were not met in many cases, and in a large percentage (43.3%) of cases, artists were asked to either pay or contribute to the administration costs of their exhibitions.

Only 29% of the exhibitions provided for installation costs; 77.8% of artists received no fee for education or outreach programmes. Of these 31.9% received a contribution towards travel expenses for these events.

These figures speak for themselves. To give the artists’ own perspectives we are also including some case studies at the bottom of this document, with comments directly from the artist involved.

Moving Forward


The financial reality of exhibition spaces and visual artists needs to be taken into consideration, especially in comparison to the state funding received by other art forms.

Visual Artists Ireland also asks that urgent attention is given to the level of funding being made available for exhibition production in publically funded spaces and the provision of payment rates for artists.

We also ask that spaces in receipt of public funding are required to show meaningful payments for artists who contribute to their programme, and that this payment should be guided by the contribution of the visual artist as the key member of each exhibition team. This form of analysis needs to be fed back to central government for consideration as they allocate funds during the budgetary process.

Levels of Payments

In setting the level for payments, we see a case for the creation of a national scale. It is not adequate to take this figure as a proportion of programming budget. To take different situations into consideration, the national scale could be prepared as a percentage of the overall turnover of the institutions involved, and that it is proportional to the contribution of the artist to the programme.

In addition, there is a need for recognised daily rates for production and creative time costs, with further exhibition and education / outreach fees being set based on a similar recognised national scale.

Actions


VAI has provided the detailed report to the Arts Council for their consideration and to look at options that will change the environment in which we have found ourselves regarding payments.


Artist 1:

Age group 55 – 64, with a job to subsidise their work as an artist, with studio rent, heat, and electricity costs of between E250 and E299 per month had four solo exhibitions and six group exhibition in 2011 / 2012. Out of these, three of the solo exhibitions had no artist’s fee, and one provided E500. Out of the six group exhibitions (six plus artists in show), one offered a fee of E700. No production costs were paid, but the galleries covered the administration costs. One show was in an Arts Council and Local Authority funded space, one exhibition was in a non-artists’ space, and eight were in Arts Council only funded spaces. The maximum fee of E700 was received from an Arts Council only funded space. Installation costs were fully funded, but no venue offered travel expenses or took into consideration the production time required to prepare for the exhibitions. They received an extra fee for a speaking engagement, but also had to cover travel and subsistence expenses for this.

Exhibition Income: E1200 for 2011 / 2012

Artist Comments: “Leaving the payment of artists’ fees to the discretion of the Arts Council funded organisations does not and will not work. Fixed fees should be set, agreed nationally and Arts Council funded organisations should be told by the Arts Council that their ongoing funding is dependent on them budgeting for and paying agreed fixed artists’ fees. If they don’t budget for and pay artists’ fees their funding should be withdrawn. Nothing else will work. The time of relying on good will is over; it patently doesn’t work. Artists need to be paid adequately for their labour and the use of their work. This is an urgent issue. We need VAI to negotiate fees as a matter of urgency with the Arts Council. As the major state funding body of all not for profit organisations, the Arts Council is the only body with the capacity to put pressure on the funded organisations and deal with this problem for once and for all. Leaving it up to the organisations to behave fairly and professionally towards artists won’t work. Artists will just continue to be exploited. Thank you for doing the survey. Much appreciated.”

Artist 2:

Age Group 35 – 44, with a job to subsidise their work as an artist, with part time access to a studio, studio rent of between E100 and E149 per month. Had one solo exhibition and eight group exhibitions in 2011 / 1012. The solo exhibition had a fee of E1000. Out of the eight group exhibitions, one offered a fee of E200. No production costs were paid. Some galleries covered the administration costs but some were paid for out of the artist’s own pocket.

Two shows were in Arts Council and local authority funded spaces, two exhibitions were in Arts Council only funded spaces, one was in a local authority only funded space, one was in an art space that receives no public subsidy, and two were in independent artist-run spaces. The maximum fee of E1000 was received from an Arts Council only funded space, with a fee of E200 from a local authority only funded space. No other spaces provided fees. Installation costs were fully funded in an Arts Council only funded space, the others either partially covered these costs or expected the artist to cover in full. One Arts Council only funded venue offered travel expenses. Venues with other forms of funding didn’t cover these costs. None took into consideration the production time required to prepare for the exhibitions. They received no extra fee for speaking engagements.

Exhibition Income: E1200 for 2011 / 2012

Artist Comments: “In all cases, I have had to borrow money in order to fully realise the exhibition and always end up using the artists fee (if any!) to purchase materials needed for the installation.”

Artist 3:

Age Group 45 – 54, full time professional artist, with part time access to a studio, studio rent of approximately E50 per month. Had three group exhibitions in 2011 / 1012. They were not paid for any exhibition. Some production costs were paid, and in all cases administration costs were covered.

One show was in an Arts Council and Local Authority funded spaces, and one exhibition was in a non-publically funded space. Installation costs were fully funded in both space, but only the non-publically funded space travel expenses. They received an extra fee for speaking engagements as well as travel and subsistence.

Exhibition Income: E0 for 2011 / 2012

Artist Comments: “I have willingly exhibited without fees in emerging spaces (those with no or little public funding) as the situation was made clear from beginning. Spaces that have established funding, even in time of cutbacks, should assign (even small) fees from their budget. Clarity of information about all aspects of the “exchange” between artist and gallery are of great importance. Unfortunately this often revealed only when a problem arises, with assumptions a main cause.”

Artist 4:

Age Group 22 – 34, part time professional artist support practice with other work, with no specific studio space or set up works from home. Had three solo exhibitions and eight group exhibitions in 2011 / 2012. They were paid for E150 for one of the group exhibitions. Some production costs were paid, and they were asked to contribute to the administration costs through their own money and money received through an Arts Council grant.

Three shows were in Arts Council and local authority funded spaces, two were in Arts Council only funded spaces, two were in local authority funded spaces, four were self organised group exhibitions. Installation costs were not funded in the Arts Council funded space, partially covered in the Arts Council and local authority run space, and fully covered in the independent artist run space. Only the local authority funded space covered travel expenses. They received a fee for speaking engagements, including travel expenses.

Exhibition Income: E150 for 2011 / 2012

Artist Comments: “Making my work and exhibiting it forces me to go into debt. I wouldn’t mind breaking even, then I would be very happy. I don’t necessarily want to make a profit from my art practice but running up debt is making it extremely difficult for me to survive.”