The Irish Times view on basic income for artists: an imaginative step

This is an initiative to be welcomed by all who have an interest in developing and sustaining a vibrant and thriving arts and culture sector in Ireland

In time, the Basic Income for the Arts scheme announced this week by the Government may come to be seen as a truly significant landmark in the history of State support for the arts. Flanked by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste at its official launch on Tuesday, Minister for the Arts Catherine Martin described the scheme, which will provide a weekly payment of €325 to 2,000 creative artists and arts workers, as "once-in-a-generation, transformational". It is certainly imaginative and forward-thinking.

A basic income for artists was the main recommendation of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce set up in 2020 to examine how the sector could adapt and recover from the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the concept itself has deeper roots; the radical idea of providing a universal basic income for every citizen has been the subject of political debate internationally for some time, with limited pilots implemented in several countries. In Ireland, the National Campaign for the Arts has been lobbying for several years for a payment specifically targeted at artists, and this is what has now been adopted in pilot form for the next three years at a cost of €35 million a year. The plans unveiled this week have already aroused considerable international interest.

The objective of the project is to address the earnings instability that can often be associated with the intermittent, periodic, and often project-based nature of work in the arts. The pilot, which will run for three years, will research the impact on artists and arts workers’ creative practice of providing the security of a basic income and thereby reducing economic precarity. Applications will open on Tuesday, and the 2,000 successful applicants will be randomly selected from all those who meet the eligibility criteria. The project should generate important data on the ways in which levels of cultural production are affected by the new payment. Some details remain to be clarified on eligibility and other issues, but this is an initiative to be welcomed by all who have an interest in developing and sustaining a vibrant and thriving arts and culture sector in Ireland.