The Status of the Artist

Published September 15, 2022

Prague will host a conference on the status of the artist. Read more about the issue in the text bellow.

The Focal Point: The Status of the Artist – programme.
(The video of the conference will be available here.)

In the Czech Republic, the status of the artist has been more intensively discussed since the covid-19 pandemic, and this subject is not new abroad either. However, the pandemic has greatly intensified its urgency and highlighted its complexity. It now seems as if the status of the artist could suddenly solve all the problems that have been accumulating in the arts and cultural sector since the Velvet Revolution. Maybe it could. In more than thirty post-November years, the artistic and cultural sphere has expanded and structured in a complex way, and today, we speak of a complex system of cultural and creative industries; however, minimal attention has been paid to those who build and manage the sphere, i.e. artists and cultural professionals. However, according to the European Commission, the cultural and creative industries employ up to 12 million EU citizens; it is the third largest employment sector and the first largest sector employing citizens under the age of 29. Unfortunately, more precise figures or estimates concerning mainly freelance cultural workers in the Czech Republic, are not available.

At European level, the social status of artists and cultural and creative professionals is addressed in a number of analyses and documents. For example, the 2007 European Parliament Resolution on the social status of artists calls on Member States to improve the status of artists’ contracts in Europe and promote lifelong learning, retraining, mobility and employment. The resolution takes into account, among other things, the modernization of European labour law, equal opportunities, the need to unify social security in the Member States and the overall transformation of the 21st century society. It stresses that artistic activity must be understood as a profession, based on the definition of an artist formulated by UNESCO in 1980 and taking into account its follow-up recommendations.

“`Artist’ is taken to mean any person who creates or gives creative expression to, or re-creates works of art, who considers his artistic creation to be an essential part of his life, who contributes in this way to the development of art and culture and who is or asks to be recognized as an artist, whether or not he is bound by any relations of employment or association.” 

The definition of an artist, UNESCO

Each Member State responds differently to such conclusions, with local conditions, needs and applicable legislation always playing a role. Therefore, the status of the artist is not a uniform European standard. Different historical developments play a big role, significantly differentiating the approach to this issue. Some countries addressed the conditions and taken into account the specificities of artistic work even before the EU was created – for example, the compensation system L’itermittence du spectacle, which was established in France as early as 1936, or the solidarity system Künstlersocialkasse in Germany, which has been in operation since 1991.

The compensatory system Lintermittence du spectacle recognises that work in the arts is very precarious and involves long periods of decline. If artists working in the theatre, music, film, television and radio prove they have a certain amount of paid work per year, the French State evens up their earnings and pays them an allowance during periods of unemployment.

The Künstlersocialkasse is the statutory social security fund for artists, which ensures that self-employed artists (in music, performing arts or visual arts, including design) and journalists enjoy similar protection under the statutory social security system as employees. The fund coordinates the contributions for its members for voluntary health insurance, statutory pension insurance and long-term care insurance. Independent artists and journalists are entitled to a comprehensive package of services. They contribute only half of the fees to the scheme from their own resources. The fund evens up the necessary amounts from a federal subsidy (20%) and social security contributions from companies (30%) that use the arts and journalism. The monthly contribution paid by the artist/journalist depends on the amount of their income from work.

In September 2020, the European Parliament responded to the devastating impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the cultural and creative industries with a resolution on the cultural renewal of Europe, which articulates the need for a European framework for working conditions in the cultural and creative industries. The resolution also highlights the recognition of the importance of culture as a European driver for recovery from the pandemic. The contextual analysis, The Situation of Artists and Cultural Workers and the post-COVID-19 Cultural Recovery in the European Union, the EP resolution is based on, speaks of a drain of human capital, widening inequalities across the sector, but also of major economic and value losses, which may have a long-term impact.

In the Czech Republic, we have long seen an exhaustion and outflow of artistic staff, especially in the independent scene. After the pandemic, this trend has been even stronger. In the past, several initiatives, such as the Foundation for Dance Careers or the Skutek association of visual artists, have responded to inequality, social and economic insecurity, precarisation, health risks and other problems related to working conditions for artists, but these have been rather partial efforts.

Lubomír Zaorálek, who became Minister of Culture six months before the pandemic (in August 2019), was the first Czech politician to “pick up” the topic of the status of the artist and included it among the priority tasks of the ministry. During his tenure as minister, the document State Cultural Policy for 20212025 was prepared, which includes the legislative anchoring of the status of the artist as one of the tasks.

It is therefore absolutely necessary to create the status of the artist. This will provide sufficient security in working life. It is not possible for some of the artists to have an obscure status, whether in the social, tax, labour or other areas. Along with the status of the artist, we must take into account that some artistic professions require a great work strain and one cannot have a career in them for their entire active working life. Therefore, the Ministry of Culture will prepare measures for the second careers of artists”

State Cultural Policy

Another positive step was the inclusion of the status of the artist in the National Recovery Plan (NRP); therefore, a set of coherent legislative amendments or a separate law will hopefully be prepared within a few years to provide protection for Czech professionals.

”The main objective is to renew and strengthen the cultural and creative ecosystem in the Czech Republic, which will enable the development of human capital. In particular, this involves the adoption of legislation introducing the status of the artist. It will improve the working conditions of artists and enable investments in the development of their skills. The objectives include the restoration of disrupted networks of cooperation in the cultural and creative sectors (CCS), skills development and increasing the capacity of the CCS. The reform effort is therefore complemented by investments in human capital. In the medium term, supporting national and international networking will be key to rebuild broken networks and chains producing social, artistic and economic value. These investments will help rebuild the cultural and creative ecosystem in the country.”

NRP

The pandemic situation has affected all artistic fields and the advocacy for the financing of culture as such has in recent years has evolved into the efforts to protect human capital. Now professional associations are also interested in the status of the artist and the matter is slowly moving forward. The umbrella associations began to gain a high profile and emancipation especially during the pandemic period when they became an important partner in the negotiation of anti-covid measures. Support from the EEA and Norway Grants, as well as the recent Ministry of Culture’s call for support for research projects on the status of the artist and the internationalisation within the National Recovery Plan, have contributed to strengthening the role of associations, which should play a crucial role in the discussion and preparation of measures.

Seeking the political will and consensus to support such a specific professional group will certainly not be easy. However, it is not possible to neglect an important segment of society with a significant impact on the further development of European values, civil society, resilience and democracy forever. If it is true that a crisis is an opportunity, then let us hope that it is also true in this case.

Examples and outputs from the OMC (Open Method of Coordination) group, an expert working body of the European Commission tasked with preparing the basis for the above-mentioned unified European legislative framework for the status of the artist, can serve as help and inspiration for the Czech environment. The Czech Republic is represented in this group and participates in its work.

The forthcoming conference, organized by the Theatre Institute in cooperation with the Czech Ministry of Culture, will provide inspiration and information related to this complex topic. Representatives from selected European countries will present the current situation in dealing with social conditions in the arts. Models from EU Member States will also include an example from Norway, which will be presented as part of a bilateral project of the Theatre Institute and the Arts Council Norway supported by EEA and Norway Grants.

A representative of the Arts Council Norway will present the current economic situation of Norwegian artists and cultural professionals. The presentation will be based on a comprehensive analytical study conducted by the Arts Council and commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. The study deals with the impact of the pandemic and the recovery of the Norwegian cultural sector.

The conference will also be attended by Zuzana Došeková from the Slovak Ministry of Culture, the head of one of the thematic groups of the aforementioned OMC group of the European Commission. In her paper, she will focus also on the current situation of the status of the artist in Slovakia. The country has already had the Fund for the Support of Arts for some time (often mentioned and given as an example in the Czech Republic) and its basic role is to prepare and allocate grants. The Fund has launched a registration and record-keeping system for applicants with a detailed structure of jobs. The registry was also used to award compensatory aid during the pandemic.

The Chamber of Artists is currently being established in Slovakia to replace the existing public (music, literary and visual arts) funds. The Chamber would keep a register of members that would presumably enable them access to support. The Slovak Ministry of Culture is preparing a law regulating the status of professional artists and other professionals in culture to include professionals performing artistic and other activities as employees or entrepreneurs. The conditions, amount and manner of granting a special allowance to certain groups of professional artists after the end of their career are also to be regulated by legislation. The Slovak Ministry of Culture wants to prepare the legislation so that it can be in force from the beginning of 2023.

The example from Spain will present in particular the procedure and methods of work to improve the tax and working conditions of artists and cultural professionals. The movement’s activities related to the status of the artist culminated before the 2018 pandemic, when the cultural sector became united and reached consensus. However, it has been a long road of advocacy and work by sectoral organizations that fought for the recognition of the social importance of culture and the fact that culture is an economic activity governed by laws that are not adapted to the reality and specificities of the sector. Eventually, it was decided not to create a single law or system of specific measures covering everything that concerns the artists, but to amend all the regulations affecting the development of cultural activities, starting with the amendment of the 1985 Royal Decree, which has governed the special working relationships between artists and their employers for 37 years. Currently, an interdisciplinary working group of all the stakeholders (employers, public administrations, trade unions, artists and cultural workers), the establishment of which was accelerated by the pandemic crisis, is working on the implementation of the measures proposed in the Report of the Status of the Artist in Spain, and is expected to have most of them approved by the end of 2022.

In Portugal, a new law on the status of cultural professionals, which came into force on 1 January 2022, is being implemented. The status applies to professionals in the performing arts, audio-visual arts, visual arts and literature, including authors, artists, technical-artistic professionals, and cultural agents. The status is divided into three main parts. The solution includes the register of cultural professionals, the regime of employment contracts and service provision, and the social protection regime.

The registration is optional; however, only those registered are entitled to apply for the special allowance scheme set out in the status. The status of the artist also regulates the various ways of providing cultural activities through employment or service contracts, and focuses on mechanisms to favour contracts over invoicing. This solution is an answer to the well-established practice of invoicing, where various kinds of fraud can occur, and reinforces and regulates the presumption of employment contracting in the cultural sector by setting different contribution rates for employers, specifically to discourage precarious contractual relationships.

The greater social protection introduced by the status of the artist includes an unprecedented measure introducing a new allowance in case of suspended cultural activity (similar to unemployment benefits), which applies to all cultural professionals and extends existing protection in parenthood, sickness and occupational disease.

The example of Austria, which has approached the status of the artist using the so-called fairness process, is very inspiring.

In an immediate response to the situation in the arts and culture caused by the pandemic and in order to close the gaps in arts and culture that have widened during the crisis, the State Secretary for Arts and Culture, Andrea Mayer, launched the so-called fairness process in autumn 2020. Since then, a variety of measures have been introduced, focusing in particular on fair remuneration. The Federal Government, the Länder and representatives of arts and culture have participated in the process and worked closely together. The aim is to identify what measures can be taken to ensure greater fairness. The main principles and issues of the process are transparency and cooperation, fair remuneration, funding, respectful cooperation, and diversity.

As terms of transparency, the Federal Government and the Länder have committed to a transparent approach in creating framework conditions for arts and culture in Austria. The process of creating uniform guidelines for fair remuneration in all arts was already initiated at a major symposium in 2019.

To achieve fair remuneration, a detailed survey was conducted on the differences between actual payments and recommended salaries/fees in the Austrian arts and culture. As a first step, the Federal Government included fair remuneration among the eligibility criteria in all new calls. Evaluators are encouraged to take fair remuneration into account when assessing applications. A number of enumeration recommendations have already been developed during the process. Based on the results of the survey on the fair remuneration gap, a working group will develop a Strategy for Fair Remuneration in Arts and Culture.

As for funding, which is based on the commitment of the Federal Government and the Länder to finance arts and culture in Austria from public funds, close cooperation and coordination has been agreed between the Government and the Länder. The first achievement is that for the first time, the Federal Government and the Länder have developed common criteria for multi-year contracts.

The first outcome of the work on the issue respectful cooperation is the intention to establish an independent ombudsman committee for people in the arts and culture affected by abuses of power such as sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination.

Following the example of the Dutch and Belgian Codes of Fairness, the working group will subsequently draft a Code of Fairness for Arts and Culture in Austria. Preliminary work has identified sustainability, diversity, respect and transparency as key values of fairness. Based on this structure, the first draft has already been developed.

 

The Austrian Federal Government and the Länder are also committed to promoting diversity. This means that greater emphasis will be placed on artistic creation and cultural work by people from marginalized groups. Art, culture and their audiences should be a true reflection of Austria’s diverse society. As a first step, the Federal Government has included diversity as one of the assessment criteria in all new calls. Evaluators are encouraged to take this criterion into account, while revising the rules of procedure of the advisory boards and evaluation commissions to ensure the sustainable development of diversity. In addition to the expected gender balance, professional diversity and regional distribution, all social groups will be explicitly taken into account.

The social and legal framework includes better legal protection and better working conditions. Since the beginning of 2021, a special taskforce has been working on this issue. Its aim is to introduce a comprehensive package of measures to improve work and social security in performing arts in the current legislative period. A key aspect will be the amendment of the Theatre Labour Act, which in some parts no longer reflects the current situation. As part of the implementation of the government programme and the EU Copyright Directive, the amendment of the Copyright Act (2021) is being finalized. The main aim of this reform is to contribute to greater fairness for authors by strengthening their position in negotiations and allowing them to benefit more from the demand that has grown sharply, especially on the Internet.

The conference will also present the Irish Basic Income for the Arts programme. It can be an inspiration for the Czech environment, especially in its revolutionary courage and openness to possible ways of dealing with the issue, reflecting the Irish government’s overall approach to the importance of culture.

In Ireland, the pandemic was the main accelerator for the final implementation of the programme as well, although the so-called unconditional income had been sought for some time. In September 2020, the Arts and Culture Taskforce was established and tasked by the Minister for Culture to develop a set of recommendations on how the arts and culture could best adapt to and recover from the covid-19 pandemic. The main recommendation was to pilot a basic income system for three years. The programme became part of the National Economic Recovery Plan, launched on 1 June 2021 with a budget of €25 million.

The key points of the programme are: to test specific support in the form of basic income recognizing the value of time spent in creative activities; to enable artists and creative arts professionals to concentrate on work without having to enter into employment in other sectors; to support participants in developing their creative practice; to appreciate the value and role of the arts in the Irish society; and to minimise the loss of skills and experience in the arts.

The selection and contracting process is currently taking place. The process is non-competitive – all persons meeting the eligibility criteria have been randomly selected and 2,000 of them will be supported; they will receive €325 per week for three years. Unsuccessful but eligible applicants have been invited to participate in a review group, whose task will be to evaluate the pilot programme on an ongoing basis.

Finally, let us quote from the speech of Catherine Martin, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, made at the launch of the Irish pilot programme, and to invite you to the forthcoming conference:

“I know I don’t need to tell anyone here about the importance of Irish culture, Irish art and Irish productions, it cannot be overstated. And it was a reality we came to realise more than ever during the pandemic. The arts contribute to individual and societal well-being, as well as contributing to Ireland’s reputation as a country with a rich cultural and artistic history. (…)

This measure is a research project and builds on the efforts of so many in recent years to highlight the need to support artistic practice. (…) The Basic Income for the Arts pilot scheme is a once in a generation, transformational measure in the funding of the arts in Ireland. It will make a strong statement at home and abroad about the value that we as a nation place on artistic practice both for its intrinsic value and in terms of our personal and collective wellbeing, and also in terms of its importance to our identity and cultural distinctiveness on the global stage. (…) What we are proposing to do in Ireland goes further than any other support I know of internationally, in that a basic income will be offered to artists and creative arts workers, not as a social protection support, but instead in recognition of the intrinsic value of artistic practice allowing artists and creatives to focus on their practice and be compensated appropriately for it.

The recent pandemic reinforced the fact that each and every person relies on and leans into the arts during times of need and every person was reminded of the true value of artists and their work during the last two years as we listened to music, read poetry and watched films to get ourselves through those difficult days. And it is the arts that will help us make sense of what happened and help us shape the future. With so much uncertainty in the world now including the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis and cost of living increases we need the arts now more than ever to help inspire us to imagine and create a better future for ourselves.

We need artistic nourishment, and equally our artists need sustenance and support. The Basic Income for the Arts, BIA, also the Irish for food, is that very sustenance which will help creatives keep creating…”