Arts income pilot lucky for some, unlucky for others

Cantillon: Random selection a curious aspect of warmly received scheme

The Government’s Basic Income for the Arts pilot scheme, which will see artists and creative sector workers receive a weekly payment of €325 for three years and is open for applications from today until May 12th, is something of a curio. This is not least because of one key facet of how it will function: random selection.

The reception within the arts sector for such a scheme – championed by Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin – has been warm, even enthusiastic.

During the pandemic, the difficulty that artists had in sustaining a living in precarious creative sectors was thrown into sharp relief. Here is a €105 million scheme born of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce report that embraced, as its starting point, the Barack Obama quote that "the arts are what makes life worth living . . . they aren't extras" and then actually managed to make its main recommendation – this pilot scheme – happen. With so many pulls on the public purse, this is no mean feat and should be applauded.

It might be wise to reserve judgment, however, on the next twist in this fascinating plot.

Applicants must provide evidence of a track record in the arts to be eligible, with the Government publishing an “illustrative” list of who might qualify (actors, composers, screenwriters, choreographers, puppeteers, many others) and who won’t (full-time students, full-time PAYE employees, jewellery designers, furniture makers, theatre critics).

Randomiser software

But because Martin’s department is expecting “a high volume” of applications and only has funding for 2,000 people, those who satisfy the eligibility criteria will then have their applications anonymised and randomiser software will be used to select the participants, with the sample checked “to ensure adequate representation”.

This will inevitably lead to much disappointment, dismay and cursing of the randomiser software.

For those not lucky enough to win this arts lottery, the one small consolation will be swerving the obligation to provide continual data for three years. Pilot participants will be asked to maintain a weekly journal keeping track of their activities and income, supply information on their wellbeing, and perhaps attend seminars and focus groups. If they don’t fulfil the reporting requirements, their payment may be withdrawn.

Truly nothing in this life comes without some catch.