Basic income for the arts: ‘That ‘Jesus Christ, what am I going to do?’ moment isn’t as bad now’

Gearóid O’Dea explains how the BIA pilot scheme has enabled him to worry less and concentrate more on developing his painting career

“It’s made a huge difference,” says Gearóid O’Dea, one of the 2,000 artists receiving €325 a week from the Basic Income for the Arts (BIA) pilot scheme launched by the Department for Tourism, Arts and Culture last year.

“It’s kind of hard to explain where it exactly goes every month but it kind of takes some of the panic out of those moments when something breaks or goes wrong. That ‘Jesus Christ, what am I going to do?’ moment isn’t as bad now because I think: ‘Okay, I have this money coming in this month, and next month.’ I can plan now.”

Gearóid is a 34-year-old painter working in fine arts whose financial life since leaving college a decade or so ago has, he acknowledges, involved a lot of ups and downs. With limited opportunities for young artists to exhibit or sell at the sorts of prices that might make for a decent living, income can be heavily dependent on funding of different types. He cites a €40,000 Sky Arts academy award as having a huge impact for one year while supports such as the Arts Council’s Agility programme help a great many more people in circumstances similar to his own.

The cost of housing in Dublin did prompt Gearóid to take a job in graphic design for a time but it wasn’t for him, and he now does part-time maintenance work with flexible hours, which allows him to concentrate largely on developing his career in painting.


He will pay more tax now on the money he receives for the maintenance work because of the BIA but says he is just getting to grips with the detail of that at the moment as it is Revenue returns time. Otherwise, he is obliged to complete paperwork and provide feedback in return for a monthly payment of roughly €1,400 that is intended to allow him focus on his core work and provide some insulation against financial shocks and worry. It is, he says, ticking the boxes.

“On a practical level, the money helps me with materials in situations where you might be thinking, I need €200 or €300 to finish a project, and I can say: ‘Okay, I can justify this because I have this money coming in.’ That’s pretty huge.

“It would have been great to have it before because what are you meant to do at 23, coming out of college? It’s a funny thing that we put so much money into educating people in this field and have then provided pretty much zero support after that,” he says. “But I’m very grateful to have it now.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times