Paying the Artist

I’m encouraged by the recent publication of the Irish Arts Council’s policy, Paying the Artist, which begins with a solid mission statement:

The Arts Council’s vision is for an Ireland where artists and practitioners whose exceptional talent and commitment lead them to work professionally in the arts can have productive and rewarding careers.

We seek to create an environment in which artists can make work of ambition and quality, and be remunerated appropriately.

It’s worthwhile replicating the Arts Council’s Best Practice Principles, detailed in the new policy, for engaging artists for work, which are reasonable and clear:

  • Ensuring that a policy and approach agreed by board and management dealing with all aspects of engagement with artists are in place and available to artists and published on the organisation’s website.
  • Being open, transparent and upfront in communications with artists to ensure clarity from both perspectives on the ask and the offer.
  • Complying with rates, terms, practices and standards recommended by representative and resource organisations, and utilising available toolkits and resources to support the contracting process.
  • Aiming for continued improvement in rates, acknowledging the low base from which current norms and standards are set and that minimum standards are not an acceptable ambition.
  • Ensuring all engagements are covered by a contract.
  • Ensuring that remuneration and contracts reflect the full scope of what an artist is expected and required to deliver.
  • Ensuring that artists and/or their representatives have a voice in negotiating terms and conditions.
  • Being clear about the nature and status of an engagement—i.e. whether the contract is an employment contract or a contract for services—as well as any associated tax, social-security benefits/obligations arising (e.g. holiday pay, PRSI, etc.)
  • Ensuring that payments reflect and/or differentiate between fees and expenses, including per diems or other relevant payments.
  • Being clear and upfront about how and when payments will be made; this should be set out in an organisation’s prompt-payment policy.
  • Ensuring that artists’ fees are ring-fenced within project budgets so as to ensure they are protected against budget overruns in other areas.
  • Ensuring that artists copyright is respected, both in terms of moral and economic rights.
  • Supporting artists to share in the economic life of what they create by ensuring that any contractual arrangements for artists to benefit from the future exploitation of their work are appropriate and proportional and reflect the value of what the artist has created.

There may be occasions where remuneration does not apply. This may arise from genuine voluntary activity or from some form of legitimate value exchange. It is important to acknowledge this, but also to stress the need for clarity and the need for the rationale and approach to be clearly articulated by:

  • Outlining clearly the benefits and values associated with the engagement where payment does not arise but where specific professional outcomes are provided.
  • Engaging openly with artists, ensuring their agreement with the terms of the value exchange and that they have full understanding and awareness of the rationale for the voluntary or non-paying engagement.
  • Ensuring the engagement of volunteers is part of a clearly-set-out volunteer policy and is not in lieu of a staff requirement. Furthermore, ensuring volunteers are respected, properly trained and not asked to take on responsibilities beyond their experience.

These are common sense principals and should not be considered revolutionary, but it’s a sign of the environment of ‘freebies’ that some might see this as ambitious.

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