Conference 2019 Postscript
The important conversation about valuing artists continued at our conference last week. Many suggested actions reinforced those discussed at members’ meetings earlier this year including increasing arts funding, improving employment conditions and creating more work opportunities for artists. Below is a summary of what we’re asking of policy makers, funders and arts organisations.
One of last week’s conversations suggested that incremental improvements to pay and conditions do not go nearly far enough to ensure artists don’t exist in poverty. With artists, artforms and arts organisations in competition for scarce resources and no collective approach to negotiating pay and conditions, it may be that the sector is too inwardly focussed and not paying enough attention to how far it is falling behind nearly all other sectors.
Reframe the pay and conditions discussion
To effect real change, it might be useful to invoke the support of audiences and get the full attention of policy makers and funders.
Garner the support of audiences
Reframe the discussion to highlight the too-big differential between the earnings of audience members and everyone on and back stage. It has widened so much that artists can no longer afford to live. Poor pay and conditions is a systemic problem. A broader argument that calibrates artists’ income against that of other workers, is possibly a more urgent argument. It is no longer about incremental increases for a group of high profile artists but a re-setting of pay and conditions for sustainable careers in the sector.
Safeguards to ensure artists are fairly paid
All of the sector’s employers and funders must take responsibility to ensure that artists are fairly paid. This requires that every one of us to be vigilant and check that every commission, offer of programme and project work, role, job or residency adheres to the sector’s accepted standards. Remember that these are minimum standards and funders, employers and commissioners should strive to improve and exceed them. One simple question that could be asked of anyone employing, commissioning or offering an artist a residency is whether the terms being offered to the artist would be acceptable to the person making the offer?
In media interviews and reports about Theatre Forum’s Review of pay and conditions earlier this year, artist and organisation members made suggestions on how the sector could act collaboratively to improve their working conditions and sustain careers. Below is a summary of these suggestions under three headlines of increase funding, improve employment conditions and create more work opportunities. Theatre Forum will continue to make representations to funders and policy makers to improve employment conditions in the sector.
Increase arts funding
Arts funding has to increase in order to create more opportunities for artists to work:
- Increase spending on the arts from its too low level of 0.1% of GDP closer to the 0.6% European average and deliver on the Government’s own commitment to double public investment in the arts in seven years.
Improve employment conditions
To improve employment conditions, arts organisations have to be adequately funded to ensure that artists, actors and practitioners are paid appropriately and that basic benefits such as leave and pensions are available to employees.
- Ensure a basic income for actors and performing arts practitioners.
- Ensure that the careers of actors and performing arts practitioners are viable and sustainable.
- Expand the artists’ dole scheme into a simpler bespoke scheme open to actors and performing arts practitioners as supported by Creative Ireland.
- Performance and interpretative artists to be included in the artists’ tax exemption schemes.
- Make additional funds available via Arts Council artist support schemes, such as the Aosdána Cnuas, and extend it to interpretative and performance artists, including actors and dancers.
- Make social housing as well as city and town centre accommodation available to artists working in, touring to and undertaking residencies in venues across the country,
Create more work opportunities
Qualitative feedback from the Review would indicate that currently, there isn’t enough work for artists.
- Leverage the existing arts infrastructure, especially the country’s venues and arts centres, and work out how they could become national and regional production hubs offering artists quality, paid work with resources, support and facilities.
- A significant portion of any increase in arts funding should be directed to those companies and artists that make, produce and tour work to increase the available work opportunities.
Consultations with artists, including actors and practitioners, surfaced other employment and related issues which could usefully be explored with a view to improving their working and living conditions and mitigating the precarious nature of employment in the arts.
Broadening work opportunities
Explore the possibility of over 60 venues and arts centres across the country receiving additional support to become arts production hubs and artists’ workplaces, with each of these organisations promising to reach a code and standard of work practices that would provide, as the norm, actors, artists and practitioners with regular, quality employment opportunities.
Collective bargaining and representation
In a sector where work arrangements are highly individualised, examine the role trade unions and employer organisations could play to foster holistically applicable standards, more consistent employment practices and to recognise the importance of collective bargaining in the constructive interests both of employers as well as artists and actors.
Social Protection made accessible
Access to social protection and benefits to be more nuanced and tailored to the sustainability requirements involved in pursuing a career as a professional actor or practitioner. As well as looking at the option of adapting the existing ‘artists’ dole’ schemes to professional artists, actors and practitioners, investigate how such support schemes could be made more fit for purpose. Such an examination could take account of the newer, precarious work situations so evident in the performing arts world.
Social housing for artists
As a result of the treble negative of low pay, precarious work and many of the work opportunities for actors being concentrated in the country’s most expensive cities and towns, housing is fully recognised as having been put well beyond the reach of artists, including actors. Social housing models that would make it possible for artists to live and work in the State as well as their community are worth exploring.
Devise supports for actors and performing arts practitioners who have reached senior and revered professional status
Any sector-wide approach should examine the framework and eligibility criteria for Aosdána and its Cnuas and the related Artists’ tax exemption with a view to customising such models for similar supports being made available to interpretative and performance artists, including actors. This task would be aided by identifying the specific characteristics of the professional performing arts in Ireland.
Adequate levels of arts funding in order to pay performance artists and actors
Paying actors and practitioners as well as improving pay and employment conditions would almost certainly mean increasing the level of public investment that is directed towards arts employers and commissioning organisations initially and onwards to enable artists, actors and performing arts practitioners to earn a realistic and living wage as well as having access to benefits, supports and pensions over the course of their career.