Visual Artists Ireland has welcomed the new pilot initiative which will acknowledge the professional status of visual artists and writers applying for Jobseeker’s Allowance. The pilot is being developed in partnership between the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, as part of a key commitment to artists under the Creative Ireland programme. Visual Artists Ireland and The Irish Writers Centre have assisted in providing expert knowledge for the scheme and have been invited to facilitate the one-year pilot scheme. Both organisations are approved to certify the professional status of visual artists and writers through their respective professional membership schemes. (Details on practicalities of the scheme outlined below).
Noel Kelly, CEO of Visual Artists Ireland stated “We have made many submissions concerning the status of visual artists in Ireland. The most recent of which was a direct response to the 2025 consultation which has informed Creative Ireland. These submissions to the Department and to the Arts Council have included areas which have contributed to the introduction of equitable payment policies for visual artists working with Arts Council funded organisations and projects; the design of new interactions between artists and teachers in the provision of arts in education; input into the new recommendations for art in education curriculum; the provision of placing the arts in the outward promotion of Ireland in trade missions; the raising of visual arts coverage in media; and the importance of support of visual arts at a local level (on-going).
We welcome this announcement by The Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar TD, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, and thank the staff of both departments for the opportunity to discuss in detail how this new recognition of visual artists as professionals can work to the benefit of the many. For artists it is worth noting that our provision of documents outlining the life cycle of a visual artist will allow artists to take the following into consideration when approaching social welfare:
- An up to date VAI membership card (Professional Members) will be one way to clearly indicate their status of an artist;
- The existing support system is designed within the existing Social Welfare system which has a condition of actively looking for employment, artists who are applying for commissions, exhibitions, curatorial visits, outreach work etc will have this recognised as actively looking for work;
- The wide variety of income earning opportunities available to visual artists will be recognised under the scheme.”
He continued “We recognise that this is a one year pilot scheme and will monitor it during the first twelve months. During this time we will continue our conversations with both departments to ensure that the visual artist’s voice will continue to be central to the conversation. We will also continue to look at promoting change that allows for more income generating opportunities for visual artists both at a policy level and at a practical level such as our eBulletins, Websites, and Social Media. In particular the proposal to change the ceiling for the Per Cent for Art Scheme, the provision of space for visual artists to work, and the lowering of the Artists Resale Right threshold are three items that we are concerned with at the moment and sit alongside the day to day practical work that we undertake to support individual artists at all stages of their careers.”
Visual artists and writers who wish to be recognised as professional fulfil specific criteria including demonstrating proof of exhibitions, events, and official recognition of their practice. Further details are on our website under the Membership Area here. VAI issues professional members with a Membership Card which shows their level of membership based on fulfilling specific criteria. This card will facilitate their claim, and they can evidence their search for employment by producing evidence of applications for exhibitions, commissions, outreach programmes and a specific range of applications for income generating opportunities undertaken as part of the visual artists professional life. These will be recognised as legitimate forms of job-seeking. It is important to note that there are no changes to the eligibility rules nor the conditions for applications for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Visual Artists Ireland provides practical support to visual artists in all art forms throughout their careers. It provides services, facilities and resources for artists, operates an artistic programme and acts as an advocate for the interests of artists. Further details about our work is available here.
The Practical Details of the Scheme
If you are unemployed or experiencing periods of very low income, you may be paid either Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) or Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB). Both payments are paid by the Department of Social Protection (DSP). Benefit offers entitlements to those who have PAYE income and have credits that can be drawn upon. Allowance is based on means testing.
Under this new scheme, the criteria for Jobseekers Allowance remains the same, but professional visual artists who are self-employed will be able to have as their primary profession – Visual Artist. This has not been recognised in the past and has been difficult to access for artists who are registered as self-employed. The new system now makes this easier and artists will no longer have to hide their primary profession so as to access supports.
You will need to be able to give evidence that you are a professional visual artist. An up to date VAI Professional Level Membership Card will be an accepted way to prove that a person is a professional artist. The card is not a mandatory condition. It facilitates, but, if you prefer to prove your professional status without VAI membership you can do so. The reason the VAI Professional Membership Card is accepted is because DSP have recognised that artists must give evidence of meeting professional status criteria when applying to VAI, and will accept membership of the representative body for visual artists in Ireland as proof, rather than the social welfare staff making that assessment. Front line officials for Social Welfare are not in a position to assess if an applicant is a professional artist or not and will err on the side of caution. This is the reason that they have decided to use the VAI card as valid proof.
More information on VAI Membership below.
Artists must be registered with Revenue as self-employed to avail of this scheme. If you are registered as self employed you are also eligible for Artist Tax Exemption. Many artists have benefited from this scheme. It is not always apparent that it can be of benefit to artists, so we recommend taking professional advice and to research thoroughly before making a decision that the exemption is not for you. More information on Artist Tax Exemption below.
Jobseeker’s Allowance is means-tested and your means must be below a certain level to qualify. Artists must gain 50% or more from their work as a professional visual artist. If, for example, you have a declared income of 6k, 3k should be from your practice as an artist. This includes income from all forms of work that an artist undertakes, for example: exhibitions – sales and artist fees, commissions, juried competitions, funding awards, workshop facilitation, arts & craft classes, guest lecturing, specialist panels, public speaking & artist talks, etc.
Like all Jobseekers, artists must be available for work and actively seeking work. You must also be genuinely seeking work to qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance – and you must be able to show evidence of this to the Department of Social Protection. This new scheme now allows visual artists to include as evidence the following activities that form the everyday life of a visual artist: applications for exhibitions, funding, education and outreach opportunities and any other examples you have of actively pursing opportunities related to your practice that could potentially generate income. This being available for work now takes into allowance the range of work that visual artists undertake.
Arts Council policy states that all of their funded organisations must pay artists, this income qualifies as being paid for work. We have to also understand that some artists volunteer. It is clear that such voluntary work may become difficult if it is placed before Social Welfare as a block to being available for work. There is no easy answer here and it will depend on each individual’s interaction with Social Welfare to understand how and what volunteering can be done.
Activation will not be expected in the first 12 months. this means that visual artists will not be eligible to attend training courses in other occupations during that period. VAI is continuing our conversations so that we can have them consider changes to the activation period that begins after 12 months so that it is more relevant to visual artists. We would like that visual artists who are actively seeking work and also undertaking professional on-going learning to enhance their income opportunities can be taken into consideration if it comes to the activation process.
So, finally, what the scheme is:
- This recognises visual artists as professionals.
- This scheme is designed to support artists during times when their incomes are low and to provide support to develop income opportunities.
- It is designed for visual artists who have no other means of approaching Social Welfare, ie Credits etc.
What this scheme is not:
- This scheme is not a replacement for disability allowances, carer’s allowance, or other specialist social welfare supports.
- This scheme is not a state pension
- This scheme is not a replacement for gaining visual arts specific supports from funding bodies.
VAI members who are registered as Professional Level can use their card as a form of proof of their status.
We deliver a lot of our services for free, but with membership you will find that there are additional supports that we offer. As well as contributing to the development of our services for individual professional artists, you will also be contributing to the on-going work that we undertake on the behalf of artists.
Annual Professional and Associate Membership Fee:
- €25 for Unwaged/ Student / OAP
- €50 with secondary income to support their practice
All Professional and Associate members are entitled to:
- Avail of all Visual Artists Ireland services, facilities and resources
- Receive the Visual Artists’ News Sheet by post (6 issues per year)
- Access the journal Printed Project online (2 issues per year)
- Be included on the Visual Artists Ireland database and receive mail-shots of events and opportunities
- Inclusion on our members’ contact area https://visualartists.ie/membership-2/ of the Visual Artists Ireland website
- eligible for inclusion within the ArtQuest studio exchange programme
- Rent equipment and utilise in-house resources at subsidised rates
- Receive a membership card, which entitles you to discounts at a wide range of art material suppliers and service providers
- A reduction on fees charged for workshops and events
- Propose artists projects such as symposia, exhibitions, seminars or workshops to the Visual Artists Ireland Board
Professional members are also entitled to –
- Vote at the AGM
- Nominate professional members for election on to the Board of Directors
- Stand for election to the Board of Directors
- Propose items for the AGM agenda
- Act as a VAI nominated artist on commission/selection panels
There are 4 types of membership:
- Professional Membership – For any artist who fulfils three or more of the professional status criteria listed below
- Student/Associate Membership – For any emerging artist who does not yet fulfil these criteria
- Organisation – Galleries, arts centres, studios etc may sign up under our ‘Organisation’ rate in order to receive a subscription to magazines and other services.
- Friend – Individuals & non-artists may sign up as ‘Friends’ of the organisation in order to receive a subscription to magazines and other services.
In order to qualify for Professional Membership you need to meet 3 of the following 7 criteria.
- Degree or Diploma from a recognised third level college in Fine Art or an Associated Discipline
- One-person show (including time based events) in a recognised gallery or exhibition space.
- Participation in an exhibition/visual art event which was selected by a jury in which professional artists or recognised curators participated.
- Work has been purchased by Government, local authority, museum or corporate client.
- Work has been commissioned by Government, local authority, museum or corporate client.
- Have been awarded a bursary, residency, materials grant or otherwise grant aided by the Arts Council/Arts Council of Northern Ireland or other funding body.
- Have been awarded tax-exempt status by the Revenue Commissioners, or are on schedule D as a self-employed artist in Northern Ireland.
For more information and to join/renew click here.
Artist Tax Exemption
In order to get Artist Tax Exempt status – to be exempt from paying Income Tax, you will need to be registered as self-employed. Once you become self-employed you fall within the provisions of self-assessment for tax purposes. This means that you are personally responsible for ensuring that your tax affairs are kept up to date. From a financial view point the primary advantage of being self-employed is that you are given greater flexibility in the expenses you can claim for tax purposes.
To apply for Artists Exemption, you should submit a claim form to the Revenue Commissioners, together with samples of your work and any supporting documentation that you consider appropriate. You will not be able to make a joint application for this exemption.
You will need the following samples and supporting documents for the following categories:
• Books or other writing – 1 published copy of the book
• Plays – a copy of the play, together with a production contract
• Musical compositions – CDs or cassettes
• Paintings or other similar pictures- 8/10 photographs or slides, invoices and your CV, if available
• Sculptures – 8/10 photographs or slides, invoices and your CV, if available.
Revenue Application Form can be downloaded online:
There is an annual cap on Artist Exemption of €40,000. Any artist exempt profits above this threshold are taxed as normal. If you are under this threshold of 40,000 but earning higher than usual it will affect your USC and PRSI.
More info on Jobseekers Allowance from Citizens Information here: www.citizensinformation.ie
Department of Social Protection: www.welfare.ie
Creative Ireland: creative.ireland.ie
Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs: www.ahrrga.gov.ie/arts/
VAI Help-Desk: firstname.lastname@example.org , 01 6729488