A total of 2,000 artists will be given a basic income of €325 per week under plans approved by the Government on Tuesday.
The artists will be chosen at random and receive the stipend over a three-year period.
The Basic Income for the Arts pilot scheme will cost €35 million a year – a total of €105 million over three years.
Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the very notion of Irishness was inextricable from artistic traditions including storytelling and music. The scheme, he said, had the potential to be one of the most significant interventions in the history of the State to support the creative community – on a par with the creation of the Arts Council in the 1950s.
The overarching aim of the scheme was to address "earnings instability" and also to inform future policies in the area. "This pilot scheme has the potential to change the landscape of the arts in Ireland and how we fund it," Mr Martin said.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the scheme would rank alongside the smoking ban and the plastic bag levy in that it would be recognised overseas as an Irish policy intervention that would have wider applications in other jurisdictions. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment was a "lifeline" to the arts, "but I know that isn't what you wanted," Mr Varadkar said, noting artists would prefer to be working and earning rather than relying on the State.
The scheme was the main recommendation arising from the report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce which was launched by Minister for the Arts Catherine Martin in 2020.
Ms Martin said the measure built on recent efforts to highlight the need to support incomes in the arts, and was a “once-in-a-generation, transformational” measure for the sector. She said it reflected the value of the arts for their intrinsic value and how they affected personal and collective wellbeing in the State.
Describing the scheme as a “watershed” moment for the arts, she said the payment was not a social welfare support but a payment in recognition of the value of creative and artistic work.
People “leaned into the work of artists during times of need”, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, she added. “It is the arts that will help us make sense of what happened and help us shape the future.”
Claire Duignan, who chaired the taskforce, said the central recommendation of a basic income scheme was identified "from the very start" of its work, to address the risk they identified of people drifting away from the arts during the pandemic due to income insecurity.
“It’s hugely satisfying to be here today for the launch of this scheme . . . Protecting, supporting, nurturing and valuing the artist” was the most important thing a country could do to support the arts, she said.
The scheme would be “non-competitive”, the Department of Arts said in a statement, and once someone satisfies the eligibility criteria, they will be able to enter into the randomised selection process. The payment will be taxable, but the amount of tax paid will depend on individual levels of income.