The Social, Economic & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland – 2008/09

In opening this presentation I would like to quote Ms Pat Moylan, Chair of The Arts Council at the JOINT COMMITTEE ON ARTS, SPORT, TOURISM, COMMUNITY, RURAL AND GAELTACHT AFFAIRS meeting.

“In the reply to a recent parliamentary question the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism said that even in these economic times he did not consider investment in the arts, culture and creative sectors as discretionary. The times when the arts might have been seen as a luxury are no more. The arts are part of the fabric of our society and what defines us as a people. They enrich our lives and can help us cope in these difficult times. When we seek to know the nature of a people in another place or time, we study their buildings, artefacts, rituals, stories and music. When we want to understand the meaning of love, death, war or ambition, we study music, drama, art, literature and film. In making art we make ourselves. In understanding art we understand ourselves.

The argument for a public subsidy for the arts derives from the same principle applied to providing a public subsidy for a range of public services. The arts are a social good which, if left to the marketplace, would not survive or would do so in a fashion so distorted that the public good would not be served. Up to now the arts sector has enjoyed a number of years of growing financial allocations, admittedly from a low base. The money was well spent during the past five years. As the Minister noted, the State appreciates and values the contribution the sector has made to the country internationally. Ireland has had a fantastic run in winning awards in recent times, which proves that our greatest natural resource is the arts.”

The last years have seen tremendous growth in the visual arts.  However, despite this growth we have recently shown that the status of the visual artist has remained static in the past thirty years as can be seen in the following comparison table.

1979 Statistics
The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon (1979) research on living and working conditions
2008/09 Statistics
Visual Artists Ireland: The Social, Economic & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland
A high proportion of artists had more than one occupation – creative artists were more likely to have art-related second jobs that were interpretive artists; Visual artists continue to need second and third jobs to make ends meet.
Job satisfaction and fulfilment of ambition, together with the independence of being ‘one’s own boss’, were perceived as the main advantages of an artistic career by creative artists; This continues to be so, with 83% responding that they would select the life of a visual artist again given the choice.
Low income and insecurity were the major negatives for all artists – long hours and excessive travel were negatives for some in the interpretive sector; 67% of artists earn less than €10,000 per annum from their creative work; 24% earn between €10,000 and €25,000 per annum.  Taking this that this creative income must be supported by other forms of income such as part / full time work, grants etc.  33% of artists earn less than €10,000 per annum from all of their sources of income 34% earn between €10,000 and €25,000
Dissatisfaction with working conditions was an issue for approximately one-third of artists; lack of space and absence of a proper studio was the main problem on the creative side; while interpretive artists cited poor heating and a ‘dearth of dressing room facilities’; This continues to be the situation, with heating, water supply, light, space, access and security of tenure in the top concerns.
The majority of artists in the interpretive side had experienced periods of unemployment. Less than one-third of creative artists and less than one-half of interpretive artists were ‘stamping a card’ at the time of interview; The proportion of artists in either sector who indicated that they were availing of any welfare payments (social insurance or employment assistance) at the time, was lower than expected; In the past 5 years only 30% of visual artists surveyed have applied for unemployment benefit or assistance due to their treatment by the Social Welfare system.  Instead they rely on being able to cope and maintain some form of independence and dignity.
Most artists regarded their artistic income as unstable, and any stability in total income was reported to be provided by earning from sources outside the arts (other jobs, and spouses income); 83% of visual artists surveyed confirmed that they would not be able to have a career as a visual artist without the support of a primary earner providing a stable and safe income.
Two-thirds of the artists had not made pension provision; 72% of visual artists do not have a personal pension plan, and may experience problems when reaching retirement age in receiving a state pension.

This is a great concern for Visual Artists Ireland, especially in the current economic environment, which we feel is being compacted by a lack of strategic direction and specific action that can bolster society as well as provide opportunities for indigenous employment and the attraction of foreign investment.


The state funding and subsidy of the arts continues to be of central importance for the current continuance of visual arts practice in Ireland.  The following chart indicates the proportion of artists that are currently supported by state, semi-state, local and other forms of funding.

The Arts Council 22%
Local Authority Funding 16%
No sources of funding available 10%
Per Cent for Art Commissions 10%
Culture Ireland 8%
The Arts Council Northern Ireland 7%
Other Government Departmental Funding 6%
Funding from Private Enterprise 4%
EU Funding 3%
Funding from Private Sector 3%
Private Individuals 3%
Non Governmental Organisations 2%
UK Lottery 1%
Non-EU Funding 0%

Table 1: Funding Sources
Visual Artists Ireland: The Social, Economic & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland 2008/09

This shows that the current funding to these authorities needs at the very least to be maintained at current level, and in an ideal world increased so as to be able to benefit a larger number of artists.  These funds are critical for artists to maintain their practice due to the lack of a collecting culture, wide spread philanthropic organisations or contributions, and private/corporate investment.

Read VAI’s survey The Social Economic & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland (2008/09)

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