Budget 2016 Letter to Ministers Heather Humphries and Michael Noonan

advocacyThe following letter has been sent to Minister Heather Humphries (Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht) and Minister Michael Noonan (Department of Finance) outlining some of the current concerns for visual artists.

“With the advanced stages of planning under way for the 2016 budget, I would like to bring to your attention the need for the continuance of the Tax Exemption on Creative Works and the support of the arts sector in a meaningful way as part of your departments planning.

The Tax Exemption scheme was introduced to ensure that the people who provide the cultural identity of our country are provided with some form of relief on what are already low incomes. Some issues have arisen in the past with the scheme. The media have been quick to highlight these and very little counter argument has been seen so as to offer a balanced view.

As you are aware, the scheme is open to all tax payers who create a unique creative work. It is not an elitist instrument solely available to artists. But, it is artists who will suffer most if the scheme is either further reduced or indeed abolished.

To understand the impact, may I present the following figures:

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. 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.

If we combine these with some other important facts we can see an even wider set of issues that the Tax Exemption goes some way to resolve.

Economists such as Ludwig von Mises asserted that “value,” meaning exchange value, was always the result of subjective value judgements. There was no price of objects or things that could be determined without taking these judgements into account, as manifested by markets. If we take this, out of one of many definition of value, then we can clearly see that in Ireland the work of the creative artist is perceived to have little if any value.

The proof of this can be seen clearly when looking at the specific income generated by artists through the exhibition of their work in publically funded spaces, or the additional work that they undertake to support these institutions through outreach and education programmes and ensuring that the audience receives as rich an experience as possible.

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.

Therefore, we would like to ask for you to take into consideration in your planning:

  1. The continuance of the Tax Exemption Scheme, raising the ceiling to €85,000 – the raising of the ceiling to take into consideration that the small number of artists who take up the opportunity of public art commissions who can take advantage of the income to offset their lean years.
  2. Strengthen the control of the scheme through the engagement of independent expert bodies, such as our own, working with the Arts Council who can help to ensure only those who are truly eligible gain access to the scheme. The past abuses have greatly damaged this especially in media coverage that we have worked hard to undo.
  3. Introduce a balancing of payments to Revenue that takes into consideration the sporadic nature of income so that their liabilities can be offset over a period of three years. In the past this has been deemed difficult due to the mobile nature of artists. However, as we have seen this work in the Agricultural sector, who also have a very high mobility at the moment, we conclude that it should be possible to now include the low paid artists who contribute to the cultural economy as well as the growth we have seen through tourism and heritage.
  4. Ensure that funding to the Arts Council is given a high level of priority. In the overall scheme of things, their funding is a small drop in the overall budget. But, their focus on individual artists is both laudable and to be encouraged. It is clear that we can use economic arguments about the return on investment per Euro but we believe that we need to also understand that there is the broader intrinsic value that has continued to provide a rich wealth of culture in the hard times when many other sectors simply let the people down. During these times of hard economic realities, artists and the arts have never let the people down and this needs to be strongly recognised and rewarded through a rise in support of the Arts Council.
  5. Ensure that any government department engaging with artists undertake to put in place, and act upon, a policy that ensures that artists that they engage with for work or organisations that they fund must clearly evidence that artists are paid equitably especially when public funds are being used. This is of particular importance in Percent for Art schemes, commissioning, and the funding provided by bodies such as Culture Ireland.
  6. Finally, we would ask for your department to work closely with the relevant government departments to ensure that they and other state bodies make available the cultural monies that they control through Percent for Art schemes etc. Many have fallen behind in this responsibility and it is very clear that a survey and strong action to ensure their compliance is required so as to ensure that the cultural economy of our country is supported at all levels and that all dedicated funds are made available in a proper and timely manner.

I would like to thank you for your kind attention. I have written the same letter to Minister Noonan on these matters as I know that there is a strong crossover with the Department of Finance. I believe that not all responsibility can be delegated to the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht. Indeed, there is a strong argument for each government department to take a role in ensuring that the artists who form the creative glue for our culture, our economy, and our well being are recognised and to ensure their support through their own work and the work of your department.

Yours sincerely,

Noel Kelly
Chief Executive Officer
Visual Artists Ireland”

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