Over 50% of artists earned less than €10,000 in 2001
More than half of all artists in Ireland earned less than €10,000 in 2001, research to be published shortly has found.
Mary Cloake, director of the Arts Council, which will publish the research, said this meant the tax exemption for artists was "irrelevant" for most of them as they did not come within the tax bracket. "The research, which we are just finalising, gives us figures which also show 87 per cent of artists earned less than €50,000 in 2001."
She said the exemption encouraged artists to live in Ireland. "And though spending on the arts has gone up in recent years, it is still low by European standards. So I would say the exemption encourages a very vibrant artistic community for relatively little expenditure, when you think of the return we get."
Some people believe a cap should be placed on the amount artists are allowed to earn tax-free. Novelist Maeve Binchy said yesterday that the exemption was a "good idea to encourage people to write".
"I know for young writers starting out, it can be the difference between being able to be a writer and not being able. I do think, maybe, though there should be a cap. If people are earning millions, they probably don't need to be exempt from paying taxes."
Tom Sherlock, manager of numerous traditional musicians, including the group Altan, said he would like to see a society where artists were valued and appreciated. "The truth in most instances is that they are not recognised in a monetary way. The majority of traditional musicians are struggling financially, especially in the early part of their career."
He said the tax exemption in such cases was invaluable, adding that if artists gave up because the struggle was too great "we would all be the poorer for it".
"Having said that, I don't think many people would complain if artists who earned above a certain figure then began to pay taxes on earnings over that figure." Visual artist Gwen O'Dowd said the exemption was necessary and pointed out most artists had a show only every two years. Artist and secretary of the Royal Hibernian Academy James Hanly said being a artist was a "tough life choice".
"Their income is so sporadic and so marginal that to remove the exemption would be a hugely retrograde move."