Part of the discussions at a meeting in August between Noel Kelly, Visual Artists Ireland Chief Executive and Director and AIR advisers Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva, Sally Sheinman and Caroline Wright was the topic of artists’ employment status and livelihoods. Both VAI and AIR are advocating for political and social change in recognition of the status of artists, informed by their respective consultation and research.

A newly-published report from Visual Artists Ireland has revealed that artists don’t spend enough time on their practice due to insufficient income from art making. In his introduction to the report The Social, Economic and Fiscal Status of Visual Artists in Ireland, Noel Kelly says: “This is not necessarily a reflection of lack of quality but it indicates the limits of places for artists to show their work, and the small size of the art collecting population.

Artists who do exhibit are not necessarily paid. There are no set guidelines on this matter ad therefore even publicly-funded institutions may not pay an artist’s fee for an exhibition. This is usually due to insufficient funding and / or a lack of understanding of the life of an artist.”

Amongst key statistics from the report are:

  • 67% of artists in Ireland earn less than €10,000 per year from creative work
  • 24% earn between €10,000 and €25,000 per year
  • earn less than €10,000 per year from all work
  • 34% earn between €10,000-€25,000 from all work.
    • 40% of artists didn’t take a holiday in the past year
    • 62% couldn’t afford to
    • 72% have no private pension
    • 45% have no health insurance
    • 48% are the primary earner of their household
    • 83% could not work as an artist without their partner’s income.

    Campaigns over the years that have used such statistics about artists’ livelihoods have not generally resulted in substantial improvements to artists’ finances. This may perhaps be due in part to artists’ own preferences for following a modus operandi for work that mirrors their heart-felt beliefs and value structures.

    When asked, 83% of artists stated that given the choice all over again, they would still choose to be an artist.

    However, this is no reason for government or others to exploit the good intentions and social benefits of artists and their practice. Concluding his summary, Noel Kelly remarks: “Government needs to take a very strategic approach to how we can build a society in which the visual arts are supported. For this reason, we need to look to education at its most early stages, support systems that need to be overhauled so as to recognise careers that some economists may see as an ‘irrational pursuit’. And put concrete action into ensuring that the visual arts becomes central rather than an inconvenient line item of an economist’s agenda. Only in this way can we truly say we are a nation that places culture high on its lists of priority and ensure that we can maintain free access to the arts such as we enjoy today.”

    As part of developing a new partnership VAI that runs a substantial artists’ professional development programme already, is now working with AIR to host an AIRTIME event in Northern Ireland for the spring of 2010.

    For more about Visual Arts Ireland and its research and programmes, go to

    62% of artists in Ireland are self-employed with 83% registered a both self-employed and employed. It is notable that these figures differ from those recently collected in an AIR survey that provided 72% and 25% respectively for these two employment status types.

    Artists in Ireland who wish to gain tax exemption must be registered as self-employed although may also have PAYE status.

    Public funding comes high on the lists of income sources, with 22% coming from the Arts Council of Ireland (7% from Arts Council of Northern Ireland) and 16% from local authorities. Per cent for art commissions account for 10%.

    In terms if the overall impact of finances on their life-styles: August 2009