THE PANDEMIC HAS taught us to love and value the things we miss so much even more. Since the doors closed on arts and culture events a year ago, the government has moved to provide those creative communities with a lifeline, with supports as well as paths to performances and their audiences.
As the minister overseeing these sectors, and as a former music teacher and singer, I am acutely aware of the need for robust supports to help the arts succeed and survive through this recovery.
But music, art and creative talent does not exist on thin air. Our artists are professionals with livelihoods to maintain and unfortunately, during this year-long pandemic, have suffered more than most sectors due to restrictions on gatherings, events and entertainment.
At a broad level, the Government has responded with many unprecedented measures.
Considerable additional support was secured last year, including a 5m Live Performance Support Scheme that gave thousands of days of work to hundreds of musicians, actors, crew and technicians when no other opportunities were available.
Significant funding was announced in Budget 2021, with 130 million for the Arts Council and 50 million more for enhanced live performance support. Moreover, tens of millions of euro has helped those impacted in culture and events through various wage subsidy schemes.
The Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce which I set up to look at solutions published a report last November in which it recommended a Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot targeted at the arts.
Their report, A Life Worth Living, outlines a mechanism for a basic income pilot for the sector, that would be a scalable initiative and envisioned to last a period of three years, in order to allow for a detailed examination of the impact.
A trial for Universal Basic Income
In addition, there is an existing commitment in the Programme for Government to initiate a trial UBI within the lifetime of this coalition government. That commitment will be informed by a review of other international models.
That guarantee was secured by the Green Party during coalition negotiations last year, which I personally oversaw as deputy leader. UBI has also been a core policy of the Green Party for many years.
So what is the rationale for introducing this measure for the arts sector and how could it work?
Many creative practitioners and allied workers in the sectors are freelance, moving frequently between self-employment, PAYE employment and periods of no work at all. In its 2018 survey, Theatre Forum reported that 30% of artists and creative practitioners in the performing arts earned less than the National Minimum Wage. The pattern of insecure and low-paid work is exacerbated by uncertainties arising from the necessary health restrictions which have put a straight-jacket around the industry.
A basic income for the arts would help mitigate the existential threat to this sector, minimising loss of skills and contribute to its gradual regrowth, with follow-on economic benefits. UBI is proven to encourage entrepreneurship and enhanced creativity as recipients arent forced to engage in alternative work to cover basic living costs.
A basic income support is an unconditional state payment that each citizen receives. The arts taskforce recommended that this pilot basic scheme would be in lieu of alternative primary welfare payments for those who work in the arts. Recipients could also take on creative work and earn additional taxable income on top of it.
Why should the arts sector get this support?
I believe the arts sector represents an appropriate area for such a pilot scheme for many reasons. It is characterised by low, precarious and often seasonal income; artistic and creative work is also intrinsically valuable to society; it includes a broad mix of employment types and it has also been chosen for UBI pilots in other jurisdictions.
UBI pilots have been trialled in Finland, Germany and Canada. Since 1936 France has acknowledged that working in the arts can be precarious and subject to long, fallow periods, by supporting its artists through Lintermittent du spectacle. This is a scheme where artists who work up to 507 hours over a 12-month period can sign up for specific unemployment assistance that is paid to them when they are in between projects.
A universal basic income is supported by Social Justice Ireland and other political parties. And while previous governments have mulled over this provision, support for such a scheme has grown during the pandemic because of the devastating nature of restrictions on the creative sector. The Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht has also expressed its support for such a scheme.
I have spoken to Oireachtas colleagues about the need to see enthusiasm across the three-party coalition government for a basic income for artists.
My role is to advocate for it strongly. That is what I am doing. And the arts community are aware of that. Moreover, my message to Oireachtas colleagues in support of this measure has been that they are very much pushing an open door with me when it comes to the introduction of UBI in Ireland.
But action on this will not come solely from my Department. Like many financial supports before and during the pandemic, a wider cohort in government must assess the strengths and weaknesses of any such scheme.
Artwork IS work
Furthermore, the Programme for Government states that this will ultimately be a matter for consideration by the Low Pay Commission that artwork is indeed work. And for tens of thousands of people in this country. And in various forms.
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French painter Henri Matisse once commented that creativity takes courage. How right he was.
And during a pandemic, challenges in creating should be appreciated and supported even more. The Government has strived to do this and is committed to helping this sector recover.
We cant lose our artists, musicians and creators. Im determined to see them flourish. I will continue to talk to my colleagues about the benefits of a basic income system for artists and creators.
In the meantime, the government will continue to ensure arts, culture and entertainment workers are supported during this crisis in order to sustain Irelands treasured creativity community for generations to come.
Catherine Martin is Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media
SUSPENDED ANIMATION Project
Through Noteworthy, we want to look at a new landscape for all types of creatives after the pandemic; the supports they need, the value we put on art as a society and stories from artists themselves.
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