The Social, Economic, and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland 2016 [ROI]

Social Economic and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artists in Ireland 2016

Social Economic and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artists in Ireland 2016

The 2016 Social, Economic and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artists in Ireland survey was undertaken in January 2016. The survey results are provided with the comparative data from 2011 and 2013. This year’s report will be the first year that specific attention is placed on gender and also the number of years that respondents have been a professional visual artist.  We have found that this latter area is more meaningful to visual artists than taking an age profile, though it is possible to use that breakdown for other analysis outside the remit of this report.


Ireland’s GDP[2] averaged a growth of 6% between 1995 and 2007. This figure significantly reduced as a result of the collapse of the domestic property market and the construction industry. As a result of this collapse and due to the budget deficits experienced at the time, the government introduced a series of draconian budgets beginning in 2009.

As the decline continued the budget deficit of 2010 was seen to be the world’s largest deficit as a percentage of GDP. At the end of 2010 the government of the time entered into a loan arrangement with the EU and the IMF to recapitalize Ireland’s banking sector and avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt. The subsequent government intensified austerity measures in March of 2011 so as to meet Ireland’s EU-IMF bailout targets.

Towards the end of 2013 Ireland exited the EU-IMF bailout programme and in 2014 – 2015 the economic statistics show that there was a rapid upturn and GDP grew by approximately 5% per annum. “In late 2014, the government introduced a fiscally neutral budget, marking the end of the austerity program. Continued growth of tax receipts have allowed the government to lower some taxes and increase public spending while keeping to its deficit-reduction targets.”[3]

1.2    Arts Funding

During this period government funding of the arts sector was significantly reduced as the overall Departmental budget has seen an increase.

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Figure 1: Annual Budgets – DAHG & The Arts Council

This represents a 27% increase in overall funding for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht[4], and effectively a 28% decrease in funding for the core work of the Arts Council[5]. During the same period VAI has seen a drop of 37% in public funding, equating to an overall drop of 15% when taking into consideration funding from other sources and self-generated income through memberships, advertising, consultancy, and professional development.

The above statistics have a direct impact on the artistic opportunities for artists. They combine with a significant decline in other areas of work that artists undertake to subsidise their artistic income such as academia, hospitality industry, and other areas of general work and clearly show that during this period there has been a steep decline in the livelihoods of individual artists. Further analysis shows that the “make do” characteristic of visual artists has seen them adjust to the financial reality, and in 2016 whilst we see a small increase in areas of income such as Education and Outreach, we see that the overall incomes remain low, but the number of artists in arrears has shown a decrease.

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Figure 2: Effects on Individual Artists’ Incomes

1.3    Work & Life

Artists have expressed simple aspirations. They wish to make work, have the work seen in Ireland and abroad, to be able to put bread on the table, and feel as if Ireland values them for their creativity.

In direct conflict with these aspirations, this report clearly shows that there is pressure on all artists to try and maintain their practice while at the same time gain income from other areas both inside and outside the sector.  Time, funds, and opportunities continue to be the main issues.

Artists who identify as unemployed dipped in 2013 but we can now see a 10% rise between 2013 and 2016. We surmise that the continued cuts across society of both work and opportunities to make a living are having a clear impact. Although 98% of visual artists work in their main area of practice, only 32% have the ability to make this a full time job. The reasons given continue to show that they cannot generate sufficient income from the sector.

We can see that there is an increase in the number of artists gaining income from Education & Outreach programmes with an average rise of 7% and in the median (50% mark) going from 0 to €60 between 2013 and 2016.

In terms of overall income (creative and non-creative work) we have seen an increase in the annual average with a rise from €16,767 in 2013 to €17,848 in 2016. However, the median shows that this increase is at the upper end of the scale as the median for 2016 is €9,000, a drop of €2,000 from 2013.

In terms of our benchmark of €10,000 we can see an overall increase in the number of artists earning less that this amount from 64% in 2013 to 76% in 2016. Taking the 2014 definition of the poverty threshold of €10,926, we see that 76% of visual artists fall under that amount.

Social Welfare continues to be an issue. We can see in this report that there has been a steady increase in artists being required to retrain for other jobs and a lack of understanding of the professional visual artist. Although spread across all levels of experience, we find it of great concern that 60% of the artists with over 30 years experience who applied to social welfare for assistance were placed in that position. There is also clear evidence in this report that artists who have a disability are at a double disadvantage as they fear for their disability allowance if the declare themselves to be an artist.

The Department of Social Welfare have outlined that artists are the concern of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and it has been impossible to arrange meetings to discuss the current situation faced by artists. Independent of this report Visual Artists Ireland’s submission to the 2025 consultation deals with this area in detail, and postulates that the primary need is for primary legislation that recognises the status of the artist in Ireland. From this the many issues that face artists could be solved through a recognised series of initiatives, including using the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as a bridge to the other government departments who think in a similar manner.

1.4    Gender

The disparities between female and male artists continue to raise concerns. It appears from our results that in terms of income from creative work the median is equal for both sexes at €3,000. We can see the difference arise at the upper income levels when the income is an average of €6,867 for female artists and €8,327 for male artists. This difference continues in the area of exhibition making. The only areas that show a reverse of female artists achieving more than men are in Outreach & Education and other work.

1.5    Years as an Artist

One of the most surprising results from this year’s survey has been the income levels based on the number of years spent as a professional artist.  Support structures are mainly aimed at ‘younger generation’ artists and it is known that the number of opportunities diminish as artists get older.

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Figure 3: Income based on Experience

We can see that there is a case for further investigation into how to support artists who are at a later stage of their career but are failing to make ends meet and who don’t have the same opportunities to augment their incomes.

1.6    Funding

We can see a significant shift in the funding structures. Although this report does not go into the detail about the levels of funding, the primary organisations that artists approach remain the Arts Council and local authorities. There is a dramatic drop in the number of artists who have been successful in gaining funding from the Arts Council, which is hardly surprising considering the budget cuts. There is a small drop in the local authorities’ figures. The third place to go to remains private individuals.  Local area giving has always been a consistent source for the visual arts, but we can see a 7% drop in the area of Per Cent for Art and a 6% drop in Private Enterprise. Other government departments remain static and there are small percentage drops across most other sources.

1.7    Artists Payment Guidelines

We can see the introduction of the Artists Payment Guidelines as a significant event that has taken until the financial year 2015 to have an effect. In 2006 Visual Artists Ireland, in partnership with the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild (IPSG) and the Association of Irish Composers (AIC), developed a programme highlighting the need for Payment Guidelines. Unfortunately the project failed to gain traction.

In 2011/2012, VAI created a new project to look at the realities surrounding artists being paid in a professional manner for the exhibition of their work and all of the other areas of work that they undertake in the sector. This combined with the 2008 and 2011 surveys on The Social, Economic, & Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland provided the data required to set up a project that would fully investigate how such guidelines would work in a sector that has a wide variety of levels of public funding and also a large number of areas of work that would be directly affected.

Taking research from other representative bodies such as CARFAC, NAVA, and the Scottish Artists Union, and looking at the realities of visual arts organisations across Ireland, the draft guidelines were designed to take into account overall public funding and the turnover of organisations, events, and festivals. The final guidelines were presented to a number of organisations to validate and were then published. A presentation was made to the Arts Council and after a number of months a clause was put into funding letters to ensure that those funded by the Arts Council pay artists in an equitable manner. This has since become part of Objective Three of the new Arts Council strategy document.

With this lengthy history, we feel that 2016 is the first year that we can truly look at the impact of the Guidelines and also look at how equitable payments for artists have been implemented by organisations. Taking the background that there are reduced opportunities for visual artists to exhibit, and also that some organisations and events have moved from having a full exhibition programme to a number of full exhibitions supported by open-submission or competitions, we can see that there are still challenges ahead in assisting organisations to budget for balanced programmes. It is worth noting that in terms of the major open-submission events such as EVA and the Claremorris Open, we have seen a commitment to ensure that the professional artists that they work with are paid in an equitable manner. In the case of the Claremorris there is a commitment to removing the submission-fee which in many other situations is seen by artists as yet another fee that they have to pay with the majority failing to have their work shown. These administrative fees accumulate in terms of the number of applications in the year and it can be clearly seen, with low incomes, artists find that it is untenable to make many applications.

1.8    Other

Although it is not the typical way of presenting such a report, we felt that rather than fully summarising the responses which are the direct voice and needs of individual artists, we present them in this report with some redactions which might endanger the artist’s anonymity or might mention specific instances or organisations that might make them identifiable.

The report is offered as a continuance of our work in advocating on behalf of individual professional visual artists and we hope that we can build on this in our role as a member and mediator of the visual arts sector.

[1] 126, Galway; The Crawford Gallery, Cork; EVA, Limerick; Highlanes, Drogheda; IMMA, Dublin; Solstice, Navan; Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Dublin; and The Limerick City Arts Office

[2] Gross domestic product: The monetary value of all finished goods and services produced within Ireland. This is used to define the growth rate of a country, but excludes sustainability of the growth as it doesn’t cover stock as it focuses on flow. However, it is still a key economic indicator in the health of a country. On the expenditure side, household consumption is the main component of GDP and accounts for 44 percent, followed by gross fixed capital formation (19 percent) and government expenditure (17 percent).

[3] The World Factbook – updated on February 25, 2016

[4] Based on figures taken from Annual Reports on DAHG Website

[5] Based on figures taken from Annual Reports and Funding Reports on The Arts Council Website

The full report is available to Survey 2016 – ROI. You can purchase a bound print copy through

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