Three in four artists earn less than £5,000 a year

Janie Nicoll says that under-valued artists will get more financial recognition from Creative Scotland. Picture: John Devlin
Janie Nicoll says that under-valued artists will get more financial recognition from Creative Scotland. Picture: John Devlin
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SCOTTISH culture leaders have vowed to secure a better financial deal for the nation’s artists after a survey found some were earning less than £5,000 a year, despite working in a sector worth more than £3 billion to the economy.

A pledge to ensure artists can make a “healthy income” instead of having to take on second and third jobs to keep a roof over their heads is at the heart of a ten-year vision for the sector.

Creative Scotland – which has vowed to open up its funding programmes to individual artists to offer them greater stability – has vowed to lobby for better rates of pay across the country for working artists to ensure they are able to “live and work successfully”.

Proper guidelines are to be produced for the first time, setting out what Creative Scotland believes they should be paid for their work, by both public and private sector organisations, to recognise their role as “essential to a successful and balanced society and a healthy, productive economy”.

The pledges have emerged months after separate surveys found that almost three quarters of visual artists working in Scotland were earning less than £5,000, and that while there were more than 10,000 people working in the music industry, some 45 per worked part-time and 80 per cent of them earned less than £19,000 a year.

The ten-year vision has emerged following a dramatic overhaul of the organisation since the departure of Creative Scotland’s previous chief executive, Andrew Dixon, in December 2012 after an artists’ rebellion about the running of the country’s leading arts funding body. It was accused of having “a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources”.

Under a shake-up confirmed today, complicated schemes have been scrapped in favour of an overall pot of £90 million for regular three-year funding deals, which will be open to all organisations, events and festivals to apply for.

The Scottish Artists Union, which has been lobbying Creative Scotland to secure fairer pay for its members for more than 18 months, was among the strongest critics of the way the body was being run.

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer, appointed last summer, has admitted her organisation, and the country as a whole, has under-valued artists – who include musicians, dancers, theatre-makers, visual artists and film-makers – before now.

However she said: “There is economic argument here. If you look at the amount of money that goes into training and educating artists across colleges and universities, we want to see that result in real worth and value for the individuals concerned.

“If you are going to do that you have to encourage a real culture shift in terms of how we value artists and the work that they do. That’s down to Creative Scotland as an organisation, but also in the way we influence and encourage others to take care in the way they deal with artists and appreciate them. Some artists feel very strongly that they’ve not been recognised and it’s our job to do something about that, although change will not be achieved overnight.”

It is hoped that boosting the pay of artists will meet a key target in the blueprint of creating new companies, arts organisations and jobs over the next decade – over and above the 65,000 posts the creative sector already supports – while it is hoped that artists gain enough respect for their work that they are called on by policy-makers to help in the fields of health, education and economic development.


‘People don’t understand why you would choose this career’

GLASGOW-based Janie Nicoll graduated with a first-class honours degree from Edinburgh College of Art in 1989 and finished a masters course at Glasgow School of Art in 1997.

However, despite being immersed in the city’s world-renowned visual arts scene for more than 20 years and showing work in locations as far afield as Budapest, Germany and New York, she estimates that “in a good year” she still earns less than £15,000.

Nicoll, vice-chair of the Scottish Artists Union, which has been campaigning for a better financial deal for the nation’s working artists, told The Scotsman: “It’s actually getting more and more difficult for artists in Scotland.

“One of the main reasons is the cuts in local authorities which have seen some councils cut funding for arts altogether.

“The vast majority of artists are freelance and it is certainly a very precarious lifestyle as you are basically going from working on one project to another. People just don’t understand why you would choose to follow this kind of career path. It’s good to see that Creative Scotland seems to be seeing things a lot more from the point of view of individual artists.”