“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
As we approach the General Election, and taking into consideration that there are many areas in society that require significant address by the next government, we have put together some thoughts that we wish to share with you as the representative organisation for visual artists in Ireland. The following items have been taken from our submission to the recent consultation for 2025 and form the basis for some of the advocacy work that we currently have in place. We thought that they might be useful for you to have in mind with all of the other areas that you might have a personal interest in.
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 our next government formally adopts primary legislation recognising the legal status of artists and uses this to recognise artists’ rights as professionals and creators.
Our next government must recognise and acknowledge that visual artists are professionals and should not be treated as hobbyists and forced to retrain in what are perceived as more useful job when they fall on hard times and apply for social security.
Our next government 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 http://www.kuenstlersozialkasse.de/
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, our next government must ensure 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 our next government puts forward primary legislation in consultation with the sector specialists that clearly defines the role of a compulsory collecting society such as IVARO and the obligation for proper timely reporting and payments.
Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
Our next government must guarantee the appointment of a Minister with a full and professional understanding of the role of the arts in society and who recognises the contribution made by individual artists who for the most part live under the poverty threshold. The Department must not be seen as a second rate appointment and should be guided to take a role in bridging understanding and policy with other departments who may not see their active role in the day to day life of artists.
Our next government must ensure that Arts Council funding is increased to ensure their continued support of individual artists and the delivery of their quality programme. At present the reduced level of funding means that the majority of events around Ireland are underfunded and rely on free labour from professional artists which means that Ireland’s culture, as enjoyed by the population, remains precarious.
All funding for the arts should be centralised through the Arts Council as an autonomous body. This will include Bursaries, Projects, and other forms of day to day funding and also include Capital funding and the funding for Ireland’s artists to show outside of the country. The Arts Council have both the systems and key experts who work continuously in this area and who understand fully the absolute necessity for autonomy where funding for the arts is concerned.
Representative Bodies Role in our future
Our next government must create an on-going dialogue with mandated arts representative organisations to ensure that policy and direction is informed in a balanced and open manner. Once-off consultation will not build us a future that we can continue to be proud of.