Janie Nicoll is part of a new team of Paying Artists Regional Advocates. Located across the UK, they are tasked with ensuring more artists voices are heard in the a-n/AIR Paying Artists campaign in the run up to the general election on 7 May.
Originally studying painting at Edinburgh College of Art, Nicoll completed her MA at Glasgow School of Art in 1997. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, East Street Arts, Leeds and CCA, Glasgow. Nicoll is also president of the Scottish Artists Union.
Why did you become involved in the Paying Artists campaign?
As an artist who has worked freelance since 2001, I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to make what anyone in any other equivalent profession would consider to be a decent living as an artist. As president of Scottish Artists Union, I have been involved in campaigning for better working conditions for artists in Scotland for several years. I am aware that it is an ongoing process, and that change will only come within the sector if we work together to influence everyone involved.
I have been regularly attending the Cross Party Group on Culture held quarterly at the Scottish Parliament, and see this as a way of having direct dialogue with political representatives. The Paying Artists campaign is operating at a UK level and is a way to actively raise this as an important cultural issue.
The Regional Advocates will help shape the campaign on a local level. Why is this important?
The Regional Advocates are important as they each have a unique local perspective, and knowledge of their specific area. Their networks and contacts mean they can operate effectively in a genuinely engaged way. I feel my own long-term knowledge of the Glasgow art scene and how it works within the Scottish cultural mix means I can operate far more effectively than some so-called expert brought in from elsewhere. The problems that artists encounter, in getting paid for what they do, can often be a sensitive issue, and that local knowledge and those relationships are really important when dealing with this subject.
Are there any particular events or actions planned so far?
Elizabeth Wewiora and I are currently organising a Cultural Hustings Event, at Glasgow Sculpture Studios on Saturday 2 May, where we are bringing together political candidates, artists, and people from cultural organisations to discuss issues around culture in general and specifically the Paying Artists campaign. It will be chaired by Saltire Society director Jim Tough and is a joint venture with Scottish Artists Union. We see lobbying politicians and direct dialogue with decision makers as an important approach to affecting change and the run up to the election is a good time to focus on the issue.
Long term, what do you hope the campaign will achieve, both in Glasgow and nationally?
I hope that the campaign pushes payment of artists to the forefront of discussion right across the sector, and helps to stop financial issues from being the elephant in the room. I already think that this is happening in Scotland, where we have had a few high-profile cases of artists speaking out against bad practice.
Change will come as more artists discuss the need for good practice and see that refusing to work for free is a positive step towards us all achieving appropriate remuneration within the arts, no matter what our job title is. Ultimately we need publicly-funded organisations and institutions to adopt appropriate fee structures and to follow guidelines so that there are no grey areas, and that things aren’t left to interpretation. Ideally we should have a situation similar to Canada where CARFAC have achieved state endorsed legislation that has to be followed. When this happens appropriate payment of artists becomes second nature and therefore far less of an issue.
Why should artists be paid?
Proper payment of artists is a complex issue as no two artists operate in the same way or have the same career trajectory. But there are certain unifying factors, such as the need to negotiate contracts and working conditions, that can often be problematic no matter what stage of career we are at. The bottom line is that artists should be paid for their labour just like any other type of work, otherwise we are subsidizing the sector and ultimately this is not sustainable.
I see the ecology of the arts as a complex and fragile one that needs to be nurtured, and that means that there should ultimately be zero tolerance of bad practice and underpayment of artists; it has a knock on effect and undermines us all.
If you’d like to get involved in the Paying Artists campaign in your area contact [email protected]
For more information on the Paying Artists Regional Advocates visit www.payingartists.org.uk
More on a-n.co.uk:
Paying Artists: regional advocates need you! – Eleven artists across five cities announced as Paying Artists Regional Advocates