The first comprehensive survey of Scotland’s visual arts sector has been published by Creative Scotland. The Visual Arts Sector Review draws on evidence gathered from more than 1,000 individual artists and organisations through open session discussions and online surveys.

Describing the people, places, resources and relationships that underpin the sector’s achievements, the document also identifies the challenges that lie ahead, and ideas for future development.

Amanda Catto, head of visual arts at Creative Scotland, said: “This is an important piece of work that draws on the experiences of a great many professionals working across the sector. It is populated by highly skilled and educated professionals who are nationally and internationally connected, ambitious, motivated and resourceful in their work.”

Positives highlighted by the report include that there are 23,000 students studying art and design in Scotland, making it the most popular arts subject in the country’s secondary schools. There is also a strong public interest in the visual arts, with festivals and exhibitions reporting increasing attendance figures. This is further illustrated by Creative Scotland’s portfolio of Regularly Funded Organisations recording over 1.2 million attendances in 2014/15.

Concern over consistent approach to artists’ fees

The study nevertheless raises a number of concerns relating to the sustainability of careers in the sector. Catto said that the challenges faced by artists and other freelance professionals working across the country are “compounded by increasing financial pressures on the galleries, workspaces and other partners that commission, exhibit, collect and represent artists’ work”.

The survey revealed that the average total income of all respondents was £17,526. This dropped to £14,933 for those who are self employed, the majority of whom are artists. These figures are well below the median wage for Scotland – £26,427 in 2013/14.

Creative Scotland has established clearer expectations around the implementation of industry standard rates of pay across its funding programmes, with many organisations meeting their commitments to paying the living wage. However, the report shows that a number of arts organisations have concerns about being able to take a consistent approach to artists’ fees and payments given the budget pressures they face.

It states that most organisations aim to provide an artist’s fee or production, commission or exhibition budget. However, financial constraints mean these often fall short of the ambitions of the artist and/or the actual production costs.

In some cases, the commissioning organisation is not in a position to support the full development and delivery of the work. This in turn increases pressure on artists to fundraise for public projects, risking the quality and ambition of the final work if funds are not forthcoming.

The document goes on to state: “Many visual arts organisations need to grow their programming and commissioning budgets. Creative Scotland would like to explore ways to address this issue with colleagues across the sector.”

Following the report’s publication, Creative Scotland will bring together sector representatives and partner bodies in November, in partnership with Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN), to test the findings of the report and the priorities set out in it.

Catto said: “Our aim is to establish a collective and collegiate approach to future development, strengthening the sector for the future.”

To read the Visual Arts Sector Review in full, please visit: 

Rachel Maclean, Feed Me, film still, HD video, 2015

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