Advocacy Leads to Results


The arts are back in the news. Every change in government and lead up to a new budget brings with it a renewed expression of the sector’s importance and need for support. It would appear that memories are short, as it seems necessary to repeat the same arguments each time and often to find new ways to express them, as the media become more and more hungry for what is new. In reality, our statements are reiterating the same thing.

At present there is an outpouring of support for a raft of new measures concerning meetings, petitions, calls for action and Dáil motions. These latest newsworthy items seek to summarise the big question! Why must the arts constantly battle for existence?

We understand that other sectors of Irish society are under similar attack, but as VAI plays a strong leadership role in the cultural community, we work towards goals which are focused on the many areas that impact individual artists and the arts community as a whole. In my early days as director of VAI, it was a small community of supporters. Over the past few years it has been gratifying to see an increase in activism on behalf of the sector. With a rocky start to our relationship with the National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA), we are now delighted to have opened new communications and actively supply our research on behalf of visual artists. The Social, Economic, and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland and the Payment Guidelines have been particularly helpful in this and have contributed much to support the arguments put forward by VAI, NCFA and other campaign initiatives.

The agenda set forward by NCFA presents clear messages about investment in our culture. This direction has been honed over the years, and we can see much more clarity of vision, which I take as evidence that some progress has been made. In our conversations we have agreed that there are primary issues relevant across the art forms. Presenting on the Payment Guidelines at Theatre Forum and Theatre Northern Ireland’s recent ‘All-Ireland Performing Arts Conference’ in Galway it was interesting to get insight into the parallels between these forms and the visual arts, and we hope it is the beginning of further collaboration work in the area of artists’ rights.

So, as we all gather to encourage, cajole and badger the powers that be on our way of thinking about the arts and artists, we also want to reflect on what we are looking to achieve over the next few years.


Equitable Payment for Artists

We have written much on the Payment Guidelines for artists in recent years. Equitable payments are a clearly stated objective in the current Arts Council strategy, and one which they require organisations funded by them to comply with. There has been a significant amount of change. There are organisations that are resistant, but there are others who are on a journey to achieve this. As some have suffered draconian cuts in recent years, their journeys may be longer. So, for a period, we will see a mix of shorter programmes, longer runs, etc. but remain focused on ensuring that this policy will be adopted by funders other than the Arts Council and the local authorities who have already an ethos of paying artists.

There is still much to be done, mainly in communicating the practical application of the guidelines, how to work towards their implementation, and indeed their importance. As stated at APAC16, this is not just something for somebody else to do. This is an action for every person to work towards to ensure that it is central to all work within the visual arts.

The Status of the Artist in Ireland

Ireland must put in place primary legislation that recognises that status of the artist in Irish society. The 1980 UNESCO Recommendation on the Rights of Artists has been a constant source of reference for our work. Both the Recommendation and the Final Declaration have been signed by Ireland. We continue to remind the various governments of their obligations. At the moment the only place in which individual artists are officially recognised is tax legislation. By remedying this, we will see a greater respect for artists in all areas of government. This simple and definitive act will be the seedbed for fair treatment.

Resale Right

In Ireland we are still in a precarious position regarding the Resale Right. Auction houses comply, but other institutions involved with secondary sales make life very difficult unless artists are aware that their works have been sold. There is also an ongoing lobby to do away with this fundamental right.

It has never been more important for us to ensure that government puts forward primary legislation that clearly defines the role of a compulsory collecting society such as IVARO and the obligation for proper timely reporting and payments.

Social Welfare & An Independent Cultural Exchequer

We have also looked in detail at raising further money for the support of a specific social welfare system for artists and other cultural workers, as well as generating an independent cultural exchequer for the arts.

Social welfare has long been problematic and prone to the vagaries of individual officers in dole offices around the country. This is exacerbated by the large majority of artists who are registered as self-employed and therefore not eligible for all state benefits. The clear solution for us is based on logical reasoning. If you give money out then you must have money coming in to cover it. We propose that a fund is set up similar to the Artists’ Social Insurance Fund in Germany. In keeping with their self-employed status, some artists already pay a percentage towards their social protection cover.

  1. It is our suggestion that the balance of this payment, i.e. the “employers’ share” is made up of all who ‘exploit’ the arts. This can be in the form of a cultural levy, or perhaps an easier win… in the form or a Tourism Bed Night tax similar to that in existence in many countries around the world. In 2015 Hotels accounted for 17,375,000 bed nights. Guest Houses and B&Bs came to 6,729,000 bed nights (Central Statistics Office). Taking these two figures and proposing a standard 2 Euro per night charge would provide €48,208,000. In France the bed tax is set at €2 per bed night; Italy €1 to €5 depending on the region; Germany either 5% or €1 to €3 per bed night depending on the region. [1]
  2. Cultural donation from companies setting up in Ireland.
    As we are often told that the culture of a country is one of the key indicators used when seeking to place work or business geographically, we feel that it is a simple thing to take a tiny percentage (00.15% – 00.25%) as a cultural levy that supports this culture.

Both of these forms of ‘tithe’ are sustainable over the long term and have the potential, in combination with the exploitation tax, to significantly change the cultural sector and society’s perception of their role in supporting the arts.

In terms of the individual artist, this income allows for the creation of an equitable system for statutory health, long term or old age care and pensions, which are currently not automatically a right for artists who may not have sufficient payments in place due to the precarious nature of their work, as well as providing extra money to the state support of the arts.


Artists’ Workspaces

It is not new information that there is a deficit of suitable spaces across Ireland. This has been felt particularly after several spaces closed due to a wide variety of issues such as lease/licence agreements, governance, legacy planning and financial problems. It is an area that we have been concerned about for quite some time and we have been looking at the circumstances required to provide suitable buildings as well as different business and governance models to sustain them.

We are advocating on behalf of workspaces, both old and new, for an increase in the funding allocated to them. We are looking at a variety of models which will all lead to a long term solution rather than knee jerk reactions. Our research has shown that artists believe there is a need for both fully- autonomous, self owned spaces as well as those that are subsidised by public bodies. To test some ideas we have been working closely with members of the Dublin City Arts Office to look at potential and scalable solutions. This includes a project which looks to deliver medium sized, self sustaining and fully autonomous spaces that can be spread across the country and which will not rely on annual funding applications. It has also allowed us to provide support to Dominic Stevens who is developing a live/work model based on the co-operative housing projects that he has previously worked on.

Our most recent research is of particular use, as over 400 visual artists and 42 studio programmes contributed to the survey. Through our international representative body partners we have had discussions on the situation in a wide range of countries and the various support structures required. However, they have all confirmed the lack of recent research, with two exceptions in the United Kingdom. This means that we have been delayed in publishing this research, but hope to remedy this prior to Get Together 2016, which takes place on Friday 26 August in IMMA.

Funding & Resources

In the area of funding and resources, we have clearly stated that government and local government funds for the arts have not been fully exploited. There is evidence that shows monies earmarked for the arts are not being spent. This indicates that there is a clear need for a broad ranging survey across government and local authorities to look at what allocations they have made for programmes such as Per Cent for Art and project funding, and for a central agency to take control of ensuring that these monies are made available to culture.

As arts organisations form a symbiotic relationship with artists, we feel the need to raise a key issue relating to meaningful supports. Synergies have been a key recommendation made by us since the forum in IMMA concerning the amalgamation of the three primary visual arts national institutions. This needs to be introduced across the sector, with the set-up of micro funding that will allow organisations to come together to identify key areas where core funding can be shared. An example of this is in the provision of: financial services and auditing, marketing, building and property maintenance, and legal services. The micro loans would be provided on the basis that the systems set up become self-sustaining through the various organisations providing a percentage towards their upkeep. The benefit is simple: a reduction in the overall costs of organisations, security in knowing that organisations are operating within good governance practices and increasing the promotion of culture in Ireland.

Artists’ Mobility & Promoting Ireland Abroad

When speaking about current structures and funding models, we have suggested a restructuring of the responsibilities of Culture Ireland. We have suggested that it is more effective to return the responsibility for the support of the not-for-profit sector being promoted or applying for funding for going abroad to the Arts Council. Culture Ireland has clearly stated in the past that it gives preference to countries that are of current interest under government policy. The current system makes it difficult for artists to engage with countries that are not of specific interest.

We have suggested that, as Culture Ireland also supports the commercial sector, there may be a different role that they can play by working with state organisations who support businesses promoting themselves outside of Ireland.

  1. Supporting all trade missions or initiatives to include a cultural aspect in their delivery. This has proven successful when reading about the benefits that were reaped by the awareness of Riverdance when opening the Chinese market.
  2. Allowing the commercial gallery sector access to the standard system of support for Ireland’s trade abroad. This allows them to operate on a commercial bases with the investment placed in them honed to ensure that they have the key skills and supports to exploit opportunities abroad.

Culture, Citizenship & Education

When we open our minds to a full understanding of what it means to support access to culture and all its component areas, we may reel and balk at the overwhelming nature of the project: the full integration of cultural awareness into the lives of the inhabitants of Ireland from cradle to grave. Like all good building projects there are the foundations: the teaching of cultural studies and their placement at all levels of education. We can see how in formal education cultural studies fall off as the points based system already lowers them to an optional, nice to have, extra. We encourage educators to use culture as the glue that brings together creative thought, innovation and practical application. In doing so, we plant the seed for a better citizen who has awareness of the role of culture in society and the need for the development of the creative mind.

Innovation is not just a requirement for industry. Innovation is the key attribute required when looking at how to provide Ireland’s citizens with hope for their future. In the long term, this form of awareness broadens understanding which in turn increases support for the arts through developed knowledge and empathy.


Culture 2025

The All Party Committee consideration of the Culture 2025 submissions is particularly welcome. As part of an open call for submissions we were among a wide range of cultural organisations who responded. In our very detailed submission we asked for a number of key items that we believe look strategically to the future through a number of initiatives that are both achievable and will be of benefit to the wider sector.


We have also looked at the area of income averaging. The precarious nature of artists’ income remains a difficult issue. In terms of Revenue payments, and in keeping with systems already in place for farming and fishing industries, we ask that income averaging is introduced. This will allow artists to take into consideration the lean years as well as the years where they may have a higher income.

Ongoing Government Consultation

We believe dialogue and engagement needs to be ongoing and should use the unique resources of all mandated arts representative bodies. At present, consultations take place on a restricted basis. Combining this with state appointments, we feel that government can learn from local authorities’ use of the Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) model. These SPCs identify the key representative organisations and ask for their input into the appointment of representatives to the committees. This form of inclusion allows for an active, ongoing engagement with the sector and ensures that policies are focused at the core.

Career, Gender & Longevity

The last edition of the VAN covered our most recent report. It is worth mentioning that this informs our annual programme, and along with the many topics covered in this article will inform the events that we have planned for Get Together 2016. We are in full planning mode and details will be announced very soon. Panellists from home and abroad will be asked what specific actions need to take place now for us to make things actively better.

So, to end, advocacy plays a key role in our work. We have seen change and have celebrated many wins along the way. But, the cultural sector and government tend to suffer from short term memory loss. There are times when it appears that the sector is yet again reinventing the wheel. New initiatives bring new blood and new thinking, but we feel that there must be a way for those invested in change to find out what decisions have been made in the past and what existing experience is available. Longevity is not always important, but failing to get a full picture can cause both misunderstanding and significant waste of energy. As always, VAI’s doors are fully open and we hope with this new energy and support that we will see even more responses to our regular calls for action.

[1] To compare, as stated by a recent Irish Times article, “The Arts Council’s recent report on this area has detailed figures for 2012. It shows that private funding amounted to €6.6 million in all, with less than half of this coming from sponsorship. Even for large cultural organisations, which are best placed to draw in funders, sponsorship made up 2.9 per cent of their annual income.”

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    In the last 12 months in Northern Ireland, Visual Artists Ireland have made contributions to public consultations from: former governmental department DCAL, regarding a new National Strategy for the Arts; Belfast City Council, for their Cultural Framework for the city 2016-2020; the new Department of Communities, and their draft Programme for Government for 2016-2021; we support and contribute to the #ArtsMatterNI lobbying campaign; and we continue to support and encourage individual artists, grassroots organisations, collectives, studio groups and artist-led spaces advocate for themselves.

    There are many practical ways that individual artists can get involved and let your voice be heard in support of the arts.


    #ArtsMatterNI is a cross-disciplinary arts sector lobbying campaign, set up in response to continued cuts to funding across the sector. The website lists many ways that individual artists can get involved including the twitter accounts of all local representatives, upcoming events, current campaigns and images to use on your website and in emails. Their active Facebook page is also a good resource.

    Contact your representatives
    Visual Artists Ireland’s advocacy work is at the core of what we do. Both nationally and locally we are in constant communications both with our members and with people who can help bring change. But, as a grassroots organisation it is also important that this advocacy takes is undertaken by all visual artists who feel that they want to see change.

    Find the contact details of your local MP, MLA, Councillors and other elected representatives at

    Belfast Visual Arts Forum

    The Belfast Visual Arts Forum was set up in May 2014 and is a self elected group of organisations and individuals that define themselves as the Visual Arts Sector in Belfast. The group is open to all and meets every other month at different members’ venues. The BVAF is supported by Belfast City Council and has representatives of ACNI and AudiencesNI on the steering group. The group is a great way to collaborate with other organisations in the city as well as combine resources and knowledge to make the sector stronger.

    Facebook groups
    There are many active arts communities on Facebook with members from across Northern Ireland, you can search for any of the following groups to join. Joining Facebook groups allows artists to collaborate and share information and are a great way to generate grassroots support for lobbying and advocacy campaigns.

    Firsty? –
    Firsty? North –
    Independent Artist Forum –
    #artsNI –
    #DERRYcreatives –

    Studios groups & Collectives
    There are many studios groups and collectives across Northern Ireland and many of them have associate membership schemes for artists so that even when studio spaces might not be available, there are other ways to engage with the group

    North Armagh Artist Collective –
    Creative Village Arts (Derry) –
    Belfast Open Studios – for Belfast based studio groups
    Catalyst Arts –
    Boom! Collective (Bangor) –

    We are happy to share links to your collectives or groups if we have not listed you here.

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