The Irish Times view on artists’ incomes: pay them fairly

The arts are poorly paid in Ireland – and many artists are regularly asked, and expected, to work for free

The Arts Council has launched a policy on the fair remuneration of artists, the essence of which is well captured in the accompanying hashtag: #paytheartist. Photograph: Maxwell’s

The Arts Council has launched a policy on the fair remuneration of artists, the essence of which is well captured in the accompanying hashtag: #paytheartist. Photograph: Maxwell’s

 

Patrick Kavanagh spent much of his life in penury. Samuel Beckett resorted to translating articles for the French edition of the Reader’s Digest. Brian O’Nolan, better known as Flann O’Brien, unsuccessfully sought work as a proof-reader and “hack writer” to supplement the meagre income from his novels, records his biographer, Anthony Cronin.

Cronin was to the fore of efforts to ensure that our most accomplished writers and artists would be given the means to live and work with some kind of dignity. As arts adviser to then-taoiseach Charles Haughey, he was the driving force behind the establishment of Aosdána, the artists’ support organisation, and the cnuas, a €17,000 annual stipend that Aosdána pays to members in need.

Organisations should aspire to paying not merely the minimum, but paying artists well

That’s 250 of Ireland’s foremost artists, at least, who are guaranteed some kind of minimal security. But what of the others? The arts are poorly paid in Ireland: funding is low by comparison with other European countries, and the market is small. But added to this is the fact that many artists are regularly asked, and expected, to work for free: talks, presentations, panel discussions, school visits, festival events and media appearances are often unpaid. This constitutes a “hidden subsidy” from artists to Irish culture. In return, they are often told, they get “exposure”.

This is not merely unfair on the individual artists, it foments inequality in society. It means that, like the law and other careers traditionally associated with privilege, being an artist becomes the preserve of the monied classes. The situation is exacerbated by the high rents prevailing at present, meaning that many artists cannot afford to live in the cities where their work is consumed. They are part of the “precariat”.

The Arts Council has launched a policy on the fair remuneration of artists, the essence of which is well captured in the accompanying hashtag: #paytheartist. Artists, no less than anybody else, should be paid fairly for the work they do. They should be told what that pay will be, and given a contract. Organisations should aspire to paying not merely the minimum, but paying artists well.

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