A further delay in rolling out the Basic Income for the Arts (BIA) scheme has been criticised by lobby groups and artists who see it as a lifeline for their sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Candidates deemed successful in their applications for the weekly payment of €325 for three years up to 2025 for artists and creative workers were supposed to have been informed in June. That was pushed out to July. It is now meant to happen next month, although confidence is not high that this target will be met.
Matt McGranaghan, spokesman for the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, says there had been “an unacceptable delay… for people who have been promised the scheme for almost two years now.
“Since it was first announced, it has been rolled out by the Government time and time again as a solution to the problems faced by artists during the pandemic.”
He says the September date is only “expected” and is for notification of eligibility which means the first payment could be any time after September.
Cork artist Elinor O’Donovan, who applied for the BIA, says she believes it probably will not happen until October.
Based in Sample Studios in Churchfield on the north side of Cork, O’Donovan says the money would make “a huge difference” to her. “It would mean I could be in the studio the entire time.”
The 26-year-old multidisciplinary artist is working part-time as a receptionist through a temping agency. She is trying to buy time to spend on her art work. She says that, so far in 2022, she is having a “fallow year” from a financial point of view.
But last year was relatively successful. Thanks to Arts Council bursaries worth €15,000, a grant of €4,000 from Cork City Council towards her exhibition at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion at Fitzgerald’s Park, sales of her work amounting to €7,000 – and working two days a week answering the phones at the Sexual Health Centre – her income was about €35,000.
Financial insecurity, however, is a constant companion. “I think it would be unreasonable to think I could continue to earn more and more every year in an upward trajectory. I got some good opportunities last year,” she says. “I think I can expect to earn more over my life time. I just don’t think it will be steady.”
Ironically, the graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, did not plan to become an artist until the pandemic. When she finished her studies, she had no money and, after a while, started working in radio in Edinburgh, followed by administrative work for a couple of months at the Adelaide Fringe in Australia. “Having the time to think about making art and what I wanted to do was really fortunate. Covid has been horrible for a lot of people but I’m lucky in that it led me to realising that art is what I want to do.”
O’Donovan returned to her native city, moving in with her parents for 18 months. She moved to a house share in April and considers herself fortunate to be paying €400 per month. Her rent, storage fees and membership at Sample Studios comes to €180 per month. “It’s actually quite reasonable compared to other studios. In Dublin, you’d pay €300 per month.”
There were 9,000 applicants for the BIA, 2,000 of whom are due to benefit from the scheme. Applicants have been told “eligibility is not a guarantee of selection”, and there will be an element of random selection. For some artists who are struggling in the wake of pandemic cancellations, acceptance could be a deciding factor for staying in the business. A third of artists and creative practitioners in the performing arts earned less than the minimum age pre-pandemic, according to a Theatre Forum survey.
“After having had the experience of waiting for Arts Council bursaries, I know these things take a while to come through,” says O’Donovan. She has become adept at filling out complex, “opaque” arts funding application forms but says the process for the BIA was straightforward. What did surprise her was that fewer artists than she expected applied for it.
“I have a couple of friends who are in illustration and design but didn’t see themselves [as being eligible] for the funding. There were a few people who were on the fence about applying and ended up not applying which I thought was mad. It was probably one of those things they had on their list but just didn’t get round to doing. I heard that from some young artists.”
O’Donovan is already contemplating what a basic income would mean for her. “A part of me is thinking that if I had an extra €18,000 in my pocket, it might make sense to move to Dublin to make the most of opportunities.”
However, she “couldn’t afford the kind of set-up there that I have in Cork” and, besides, she says proudly, “Cork has a great community of artists.”
For now, it’s a waiting game for O’Donovan and the other applicants to the BIA pilot scheme. A letter sent out to applicants states: “Due to the high volume of applications, and a requirement to seek further information from over 4,000 applicants regarding their eligibility, the process to establish who is eligible for inclusion in the selection process is going to take some additional time.”