Advocacy Datasheet #4: Work Life

Individual visual artists’ incomes are amongst the lowest of any sector in Ireland.

Based on the survey, with 305 responses to the question about income from creative work, professional visual artists in 2011 answered (2008 are included for comparison):

2008 2011 2012
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%
 Have signed on for Unemployment 30% 37.5% 57%

This raises three points.

  1. It is not possible to live solely on artistic earnings;
  2. Artists depend on other jobs, partners, and other subsidies to live and make work;
  3. The current system is designed so that artists must focus on income, and little or no value is placed on creative expression beyond recognition by the Arts Council’s awards, Culture Ireland’s travel awards, and local authority grants.

Due to the precarious nature of their income, there are times when they must resort to social welfare for support.  It is fair to say that most want to ensure that they are gainfully employed in their practice.  However, as seen above they take on extra work, whilst at the same time being subject to times of unemployment or low levels of income.  Unfortunately when applying for benefit or assistance the system does not recognise their circumstances and there are a number of areas such as rent assistance and other supports that need to be reapplied for. This is the cause of continued financial hardship.

Also, artists must register as self employed for the Tax Exemption scheme, and yet when recognised as low income must deregister as self employed so as to gain benefits from Social Welfare.  This deregistering means that any opportunities that arise through the making of creative work fail to be subject to the Tax Exemption.

Artists who have followed the guidelines given by Social Welfare officers find themselves in situations whereby their low income and their effect on PRSI payments fail to entitle them to any state support, even when arriving a pensionable age.  We have a number of case studies that illustrate this point.

These are just some aspects of concern that we are experiencing in this area.  We understand that the system takes an amount of these items into consideration, and so we are looking to meet with the appropriate senior person of the Department of Social Protection to go through the matter so that we can inform members of how to best approach these periods of sustained low income or unemployment and also work with the Department officials so that a clear policy can be circulated to social welfare offices.  Unfortunately the situation arises that whilst some social welfare officers fully understand this form of working, there are quite a few who do not.  This leads to confusion and also to the removal of benefits that are later found to be in order.

Therefore it is critical that the government takes “the necessary steps to see that artists enjoy the same rights as are conferred on a comparable group of the active population by national and international legislation in respect of employment and living and working conditions, and see that self-employed artists enjoy, within reasonable limits, protection as regards income and social security.”

To do this they must look to the short and medium term and implement the following policies

  • Create a grant scheme that supports artists at the beginning of their careers, in particular during the initial period when they are attempting to devote themselves completely to their art. Such a scheme could be designed so that a claw back system starts when artists’ income levels reach a certain level;
  • Create an employment scheme that will allow artists to gain additional income from within the sector.  The example above indicated a potential pool from the visual arts. The system that we are proposing is a simple matching of the two situations. We wish to match cultural institutions staffing deficits with cultural workers who are currently registered as unemployed.

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Identify key small, medium and large arts organisations to pilot the scheme.
  • Open the scheme nationally.

This is a simplified 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.

  • Ensure that all creative opportunities are being fully exploited.  The Per Cent for Art Scheme has been much lauded both locally and nationally. However, its full implementation has never been transparently monitored and for this reason there are opportunities that may have been lost.  We are recommending the creation of a central agency for the management of the scheme.  The purpose of this agency is to ensure that all eligible projects are fully exploited by the sector.  The agency will also undertake to ensure the implementation of the Public Art Guidelines (a task undertaken at the moment by Visual Artists Ireland) to ensure that artists are remunerated in the correct manner for administrative and creative work.
  • The next decade will see a large number of commemorations of significant events in Irish history.  We feel that it is important that central and local government promote their significance and place an emphasis on the role of the arts in our history through the creation of art works of national importance.  Therefore, we feel that all local authorities should be made aware of their obligations in these areas and provided with an impetus to ensure that the visual arts are central to any commemorations.

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. We deal specifically with this topic in Advocacy Datasheet #5: Topic: The Artists’ Charter

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