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Ireland launches Basic Income for the Arts

Up to 2,000 artists will be supported, reflecting a sea change in how arts workers are valued

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Ireland’s National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) has been lobbying for a basic income for artists since 2017. Photo by Phil Roeder/Flickr.

The launch of a basic income for artists has been hailed as “the most significant positive moment for Irish arts since the foundation of the Arts Council over 70 years ago.”

Up to 2,000 artists will receive €325 per week for three years under the pilot, a sign of a “seismic shift” in attitudes towards the arts among politicians and the public over the past two years, advocates say.

It will be non-competitive, with participants drawn at random from a pool of eligible applicants from May 12. There won’t be a cap on how much artists can earn on top of the guarantee, which will be treated as earnings from self-employment for taxation.

The Arts Council of Ireland, welcoming the launch on Tuesday, April 5, said artists’ working and living conditions “remain below acceptable standards.”

The arts sector is increasingly shaped by unstable income patterns of the gig economy and has trouble retaining talent despite being highly educated, it added.

“It is anticipated that the pilot will reduce the constant level of uncertainty and lack of security felt by many in the sector.

“It will allow and encourage entrepreneurship, facilitate risk-taking and experimentation… and increase the quality of artistic output, in particular supporting emerging artists at the outset of their career.

There are some concerns over the scheme’s eligibility: arts administrators and educators are excluded, as are stage technicians, agents, craftspeople and designers.

It’s also unclear how artists claiming disability allowance will be affected, as the weekly self-employment earnings limit is just €375, though it’s understood officials aim to resolve this before participants are selected.

The National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) has been lobbying for a basic income for artists since 2017. Chair Angela Dorgan said the group hopes to see the payments “become the rule rather than the exception” from 2025.

“Four years ago it was a pipe dream,” she told ArtsProfessional.

“The fact that this happened at all is huge. Now, we in the sector need to embrace it as it is and help the Government to iron out the flaws.

“What is important now is that the pilot scheme is fit for purpose… to provide sufficient insights and the required data that will be vital in proving the concept works for both the arts sector and for society.”

Political will

Campaigners seized on a change in Government in Ireland and a push for a universal basic income to advocate for the sector specific scheme.

With Green Party politician Catherine Martin as Arts Minister, “it looked like we had a real ally in our corner,” Dorgan said.

“We saw the ball on the court and grabbed it and ran with it for the arts.”

NCFA asked for €327 per week, expecting payments to be set at around the unemployment benefit rate of €208.

That the scheme offers €325 is a testament to the efforts of campaigning groups, including those outside the arts.

“It speaks volumes for what the Government itself wants to achieve,” Dorgan added.

A silver bullet?

The pilot is expected to support artists to develop their practice and minimise the loss of skill and experience from the sector post-Covid.

Arts Council of Ireland also believes it could improve the diversity of the sector by giving more people an opportunity to build portfolios and establish their careers: “This is important because it means we get to hear a wider range of voices in the arts that better reflect contemporary Irish society,” Director Maureen Kennelly commented.

€25m has been budgeted for the first year of the scheme following recommendations from a recovery taskforce in November.

Taskforce Chair Claire Duignan said the pilot “has the potential to be genuinely transformative in terms of the sustainability of the sector.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said social protections for artists have improved in recent years but acknowledged earnings can be “erratic or volatile,” even once they are well established.

“This new grant will create a floor and a safety net for artists. I am very interested to know what we will learn from this pilot.”

Action research

Eligible applicants who miss out will be invited to form a control group so officials can evaluate the programme’s success.

Like the pilot participants, they will keep a weekly journal tracking their income, wellbeing and work in the arts and other sectors. They will receive about €1,950 - the equivalent of six weeks’ pay from the scheme - in compensation.

Artists working in other sectors out of “economic necessity” are eligible to apply if they can prove they have a creative practice, and up to 200 places will be reserved for graduates and trainees who don’t yet have work experience.

Dorgan encouraged “anyone and everyone” in the arts to apply to demonstrate “how close knit the ecosystem is.”

“We need politicians to see how many artists and arts workers need this.”

Artists in full time employment are ineligible.

Adele Redmond is the news editor at ArtsProfessional.

This article originally appeared on ArtsProfessional.co.uk.

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