Recent events show recent achievements

advocacyThe launch on Thursday 8th December by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, of the Creative Ireland Programme / Clár Éire Ildánach has been greeted with largely positive support by the arts.  As always, a sector that has seen many initiatives over the years which appear to drift into forms different from first conceived, or indeed forgotten, remains to be convinced by the detail of the delivery of the document.

The release of this document has given us, in VAI, time to review the impact of our various submissions to government and a chance for us to look at what we have achieved. As we can see there are several areas that we have actively campaigned for and have provided written submissions to government about.

The Arts in Education

The importance of ensuring that culture is placed central in all levels of education, ie. Moving from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) and how this move can enhance not only the education experience of student, but also look to a long term goal of our education system delivering more rounded civic responsibility as part of our citizenship. Although this full firm commitment is some time away, we can see two recent initiatives that are clearly moving in the right direction.

Recent developments from the Arts in Education Charter show that it has moved away from the odd idea of a creative dividend for artists who deliver within this system. Instead what is currently being delivered is a sound education programme bringing artists and teachers together in the form of mentoring workshops so that arts teachers and artists become more versed in how collaborations can happen in the school room.

Creative Ireland has also undertaken to prioritise children’s access to art, music, drama and coding; enhance the provision of culture and creativity in every community; further develop Ireland as a global hub for film and TV production; empower and support our artists; drive investment in our cultural institutions; and further enhance our global reputation abroad.” There is an outline of what will mean and how it will be delivered. There is a similarity with various initiatives that already exist and it is our hope that this builds on their successes rather than tries to displace them.

Social Welfare

Specific to our response to Culture 2025 on behalf of Visual Artists Ireland, dated Tuesday, 29 September 2015, in which we asked that “Ireland 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 has been a significant response.  Since the submission we have had a number of chats with the Department to discuss the practical way that this could be rolled out and also provided them with details on the current situation in dole offices.  Therefore, we are delighted to see that the discussions have been fruitful.

During our conversations, We have been told that artists who are registered as self-employed can approach social welfare; look for assistance; declare themselves as professional artists; say that they wish to continue their work as professional artists and don’t need retraining (as per this scheme) just cover to bring them up to a level of income for an extended period. Artists may have to provide evidence to prove that they are professional artists, in a similar way that artists must fulfil certain criteria to be a full professional member of VAI. To be clear, this is a top up payment to bring a person up to what they would receive on social welfare. It is based on an existing system for self-employed workers which allow it to be an egalitarian opportunity, despite being lauded as specific to artists. As an aside, we have always found change and progress is made easier when we look for other areas where precedence is set and we can show how visual artists can benefit from being included. This will take time to filter down to each office… but that is now with that department to make it happen. We will update ourselves on the roll out of this and make all aware of the process and how to gain direct access to it.

Promotion of Irish Culture Abroad

Also in our submissions we have requested since “Culture Ireland also supports the commercial sector promoting itself abroad, we suggest that this role continues in the form of Culture Ireland being reformed to work with organisations such as Tourism Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. This will allow a pressure on all trade missions or initiatives to include a cultural aspect in their delivery. This has proven successful when reading about the benefits that were reaped by the awareness of Riverdance when opening the Chinese market. It has also been to the benefit of other countries that have this policy in place. The arts have access into a wide range of decision makers internationally who often attend openings and sit at the same dinner tables as artists. These are influencers that trade seek access to. Simply put, culture in all of its forms can ease passage in the development of foreign business.”

This is now clearly delivered in the new Creative Ireland programme.  Of course the detail has yet to be defined. Organisations who are already active in this area have been appointed to oversee it, and it is our hope that the broad spectrum of Irish Contemporary Culture will be given the opportunities of engaging internationally in the same way that our more traditional culture has been used in the past.  We laud the success of Riverdance and hope that different areas of practice and experience are also given the opportunities offered by international exposure.  We suggest that a national panel is set up with oversight that opportunities are offered in an equal manner both geographically and to cover different levels of experience and types of practice.

Payments for Visual Artists

What is clearly missing from the document is a commitment to respect artists who deliver this programme by guaranteeing that they are paid.  Already The Arts Council and almost all Local Authorities have these policies and practices in place. But, there is now a need to put pressure on the government to adopt this policy and to clearly show where the programme will rely on artists and clearly state where it is assumed it will rely on volunteerism.

We have included in our submissions “we request that a clear directive is sent to each government department, semi-state body, and other funded or government supported bodies, that it is the clear expectation that artists are equitably remunerated for any work that they undertake. The onus must be placed on the commissioning body, or “employer” that they budget in the correct manner and do not reply on untoward pressure that is placed on artists to deliver for free or for some hugely discounted rate ‘if they wish to work’ with such bodies.” We will continue to push this through as it will be key to the impact of this programme on the lives of individual artists.

Partially achieved

Infrastructural provision

In recent months we have also seen the provision from the Department of funding for the support of arts organisations in terms of their infrastructure and capital investment.  We have offered a submission that stated “There is little doubt that the provision of capital investment from the department in recent years has been sporadic. This has left the sector with buildings that have become difficult to maintain and resources that should be directed to cultural programming have been needed to ensure compliance with regulations as well as their maintenance.

Capital funding should be returned to the Arts Council as it had been in previous years, with only major construction projects and the support of the National Cultural Institutions remaining with the department, managed in partnership with the Arts Council.

There is also clear evidence that not all organisations wish to own their buildings nor do some local authorities have the wherewithal to maintain them. There is a need for a four tiered approach:

  1. Full state or local authority ownership and provision of key institutions with contractual undertakings (SLAs) for their on-going sustainable support;
  2. Zero Interest Micro loans to allow organisations develop self-sustaining affordable spaces. The provision of these micro loans to be measured on the proven ability of such organisations to support and run their organisations as sustainable businesses at a low cost to themselves or to the members of the group/organisation/programme.
  3. The support of the provision of legislation that will allow those not for profit organisations who wish to have full autonomy to obtain low interest mortgages to buy their own buildings and to become fully independence.
  4. A maintenance and development fund for existing buildings that is accessed as part of annual funding applications.”

We will continue with our work researching this specific area both locally and nationally and in particular focus on the provision of visual artists workspaces.  There are many groups working in this area that we are currently working with in looking at different models that can be adopted.  In particular the support of the Arts Council with the increase of the Workspace Scheme from 30,000 Euro to 40,000 Euro limit is to be acknowledged and welcomed.  We can also see nascent co-operative live work spaces as a key alternative to existing models.  Also, our work in the area of creating self-sustaining studios has gained some interest. We have also been in discussion with property developers in very open and frank conversations about how they can be brought into the area of low cost provision. we will continue to look at ways that this can be implemented in the future and present these to government as they become solid proposals.

Still to come

There are several areas that we continue to push for.

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 Ireland formally adopts primary legislation recognising the legal status of artists and uses this to recognise artists’ rights as professionals and creators.

An overview of this vision (boldly referencing the Canadian Status of the Artist Act S.C. 1992, c. 33 Assented to 1992-06-23) recognises:

  • the importance of the contribution of artists to the cultural, social, economic and political enrichment of Ireland;
  • the importance to Irish society of conferring on artists a status that reflects their primary role in developing and enhancing Ireland’s artistic and cultural life, and in sustaining Ireland’s quality of life;
  • the role of the artist, in particular to express the diverse nature of the Irish way of life and the individual and collective aspirations of Irish citizens;
  • that artistic creativity is the engine for the growth and prosperity of dynamic cultural industries in Ireland; and
  • the importance to artists that they be compensated for the use of their works, including the public lending of them.

The above to be based on:

  • the right of artists and producers to freedom of expression;
  • the right of artists and producers to specific statutory supports;
  • the right of artists to produce in an environment that is respectful and cognitive of the artist as a professional with all of the associated rights.

Income Averaging

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, we ask 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.

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 government puts forward primary legislation that clearly defines the role of a compulsory collecting society such as IVARO and the obligation for proper timely reporting and payments.

The current statutory instrument ensures the minimum compliance with EU directives leading it to be as flawed as it is unenforceable … This specific need for action remains a top priority for VAI and IVARO.

BREXIT: Our immediate threat to North/South Co-Operation

Brexit is already effecting some of us. Rather than going into detail about that here, we will have our thoughts on this very pressing issue in the next edition of The Visual Artists News Sheet which VAI members will receive through their letterbox in early January, and which will be available from distribution points around the country.

So, there is a lot that has been achieved in recent times. It is now for us to ensure that the broadest spectrum of individual visual artists and arts organisations can benefit from them. There is still much work to be done, and we will continue these areas of our advocacy work as usual…  sometimes quietly in the background, but always to the benefit of visual artists and arts organisations across the country. We hope to have an interview with the programme director of Creative Ireland, John Concannon, in a future edition of The Visual Artists News Sheet so that we can learn more about the programme and how it will be delivered.

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