It took the global pandemic to inspire a wider governmental and public understanding of the societal value of the arts, the work of Ireland’s 55,000 strong workforce of artists, arts workers and arts organisations. When the streets emptied and our homes became our entire world, artists got on with doing their jobs. Their products, their output – their art – quelled our fear, absorbed our grief, gave us joy and respite, and reminded us again and again that despite being apart we were not alone.
The limiting effects of necessary restrictions and lockdowns kickstarted the demystification of ‘the arts’, what the arts are, who they are for, how the arts can forge the building blocks of a just, healthy, inclusive, and diverse society, why each citizen could be confident and proud to assume the role of a contemporary ‘patron of the arts’ through their tax euros. The artists, their many and varied artforms, the day to-day graft, the multi-layered processes of making art, and the time needed to do that work, gained better and widespread understanding. The return on investment in the arts was revealed. The arts bled into the national consciousness, as Ireland reclaimed artistic expression as a simple and vital part of everyday life for everyone.
While this recognition and the significant additional supports provided to artists, arts workers and arts organisations during the pandemic is hugely welcome, the fundamental pre-existing financial crisis within the sector remains. At last analysis, two thirds of workers in the sector are earning less than €20,000 a year, 60% of artists and arts workers have neither health insurance nor private pension and 74% of performing artists and creative practitioners are reliant on another source of income.1 More recently, the Arts Council reported that 48% of professional artists have considered abandoning their career in the arts over the last year, with lack of income and financial pressures being cited by 70% of those as the main reason2.
A decade on from the financial crisis, government investment in the bodies that underwrite the artistic output of the nation, including the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, Creative Ireland and others, have barely recovered. Ireland continues to languish on the bottom rung of European investment in culture. Remuneration for Irish artists and arts workers is consistently and significantly less than the national average, and the working day continues to lengthen as artists strive to create and present their work with meagre wages and budgets.
Despite the staggering sweat equity committed by artists and arts workers, most struggle to eke out a basic living, existing in precarity without stability or security. For their enormous investment of time and effort, artists and arts workers remain unable to invest in themselves, their families, their communities, or their futures.
The funded arts sector has always existed at the discretion of those who decide the pecking order of societal needs. It seems often forgotten that artists and arts workers do not live in a parallel society: they are as impacted by crises in health, housing, education, climate action and equality as all other citizens.
If proof of value is key to investment decisions, NCFA strongly asserts that the last eighteen months are clear proof of concept: invest in the arts and the arts will return manifold. The arts community has perceptibly demonstrated the return on investment in economic terms. Artists, arts workers and arts organisations continue to repay the nation’s investment in the sector through discernible positive impacts on individuals and communities in the areas of health, mental wellbeing, education, societal cohesion, diversity, inclusion, creativity, critical thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship, global reputation and many more.
Budget 2022 provides Government with the golden opportunity for a renaissance moment, to reset the pilot light for Ireland’s 55,000 artists, arts workers, and arts organisations, secure the livelihoods of our artistic and creative workforce, and guarantee a sound working future for the next generations of Irish performers and creators.
The key points laid out in this Pre-Budget Submission are the basic building blocks from which the arts sector can commence a new journey into a better future. By committing to equitable and sustained investment in the arts, Government can ensure continued economic return on investment from the sector and guarantee the rights of more than 5 million citizens of our island to reap the wealth of life-affirming benefits that the arts provide.
INVEST. SOW. REAP. THE ARTS MATTER.
1. Theatre Forum: Payscales Survey: Review of Pay and Conditions in the Performing Arts in 2018; National Campaign for the Arts Annual Survey (2018); Arts Council Ireland/Arts Council of Northern Ireland: The Living and Working Conditions of Artists in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (2010).
2. Arts Council: New Report on the Impact of the Covid Crisis & Budget Submission for 2022.