Leading arts organisations, including Engage, have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak MP asking him to protect the livelihoods of visual artists affected by COVID-19. Read the full letter below.
We are writing to you as a group of organisations representing the UK’s visual artists – most of whom are self-employed. Prior to the pandemic, the UK boasted the second largest art market in the world, worth over £10 billion per year. We must protect the livelihoods of artists if our art market, and the UK’s position as a cultural powerhouse, is to continue after the pandemic.
Many artists have already seen projects cancelled, and new opportunities have ceased to materiaise due to closure of galleries, institutions and arts spaces. Education and participation programmes, which benefit the most vulnerable in society, are another source of artist employment which cannot continue for now.
While we welcome the measures put in place by the Chancellor to protect self-employed workers, they do not address the specific needs of most artists. We have commissioned a survey which seeks views from artists across England on how they have been affected by the pandemic, and on the support packages. We would be delighted to arrange a Zoom call to brief you or your team on the findings, after the survey closes.
In the meantime, our main concerns about the support packages are outlined below:
1. Support packages do not benefit artists who are struggling now
Artists will not be able to access funds from self-employed support packages until the end of June. Support packages announced by Arts Council England are welcome but unlikely to sustain the majority of individual artists, due to the competitive application process and accounting requirements. Yet many artists are feeling the impact of the pandemic and are struggling already. Universal Credit is an inadequate stop gap as it takes up to five weeks to receive the first payment. Quickly accessible grants and loans are more suitable support mechanisms for artists and creative freelancers.
2. Support mechanisms do not acknowledge the reality of the gig economy
Artists have long been participants in the gig economy. Many balance self-employed income with zero-hours or fixed-term contracts in teaching or running education and participation projects. The patching together of various income sources means they will not qualify for self-employed support packages or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
3. Eviction freezes are needed for artists’ studios
Commercial tenants are safe from eviction until 30 June. We urge the Government to extend these measures to artists’ studios, in order to protect UK culture following the pandemic. Without access to a studio, many artists cannot create work, and our art market will suffer.
4. Artists survive on turnover, not profits
Artists have significant overheads including studio space, insurance, assistants, and materials. Grants based on profit levels are unlikely to provide the level of support needed to keep living and creating the work our art market depends on. Grants calculated on turnover and/or tax returns would better provide the support required by artists.
5. Costs incurred producing cancelled projects should be recouped
On commission of a project it is typical that payment happens in stages. The majority of payment will arrive on completion of the project, with the artist incurring significant production costs throughout. Artists are currently hit twice – they lose out on completion fees and will lose production costs. We urge Government to support artists by allowing them to recoup costs incurred in the production of cancelled projects.
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to wipe out a generation of artists from the British cultural pipeline, through a lack of work, opportunities and income. It increases the chances of talented artists understandably seeking more secure forms of employment, and our cultural life will suffer.
As we recover from this crisis, the Government will focus on its ambitious trade agenda and economic recovery. The London art market, and UK cultural exports, will be a central part of this. Therefore, support measures from the Government must be meaningful, long-term and respond to the specific needs of artists.
We recommend the following actions in the first instance:
- A package of quickly accessible grants and loans for artists (based on turnover and/or tax returns rather than profits)
- A package of support for gig economy workers, including artists
- An eviction freeze on artists’ studios, comparable to protection afforded to commercial tenants
- Greater clarity on how artists with salaried income can access support
- A mechanism for recouping costs incurred during the production of cancelled projects
There has never been a more urgent moment for the UK to support its artists. We look forward to discussing these points with you further.
a-n The Artists Information Company
Artists’ Union England
Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN)
DACS (Design and Artists Copyright Society)
East Street Arts
FACT Liverpool (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology)
Wysing Arts Centre
CC: The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
CC: Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister for Digital and Culture