EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

New Arts Council study reveals poor working conditions for artists

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New research by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has found that the average professional artist, writer, painter, musician or performer in the Republic of Ireland earns just €14,500 a year (two thirds of the average income for all other workers) despite over two thirds having a university degree. On average, artists work more than 55 hours per week and frequently hold down extra jobs. Lack of pension provision is also an issue for artists.

A new report, The living and working conditions of artists in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (1.55Mb PDF), published in April 2010 by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, reveals that professional artists on the island of Ireland can experience quite difficult working conditions. Despite relatively high levels of education, work patterns are volatile and many artists report leading stressful lives in which they find it hard to obtain a good work-life balance, and may experience periods of unemployment. Income levels are low relative to other workers, especially workers with similar educational backgrounds.

The Arts Council research sheds new light on what it means to be an artist, writer, painter, musician or performer in modern day Ireland, north and south. This article focuses on the findings for the Republic of Ireland (ROI).

Many of the key features of artists’ living and working conditions in the Republic of Ireland are similar to those of artists in Northern Ireland, as reported in the full project study, and indeed elsewhere. Studies reviewed from the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, Austria and other countries show that the key findings for ROI artists broadly reflect the difficulties facing artists internationally.

Survey methodology

Using the Arts Council database, the researchers estimated that the number of professional artists in ROI in artform areas covered by the Arts Council is just under 5,000. The fieldwork involved a survey questionnaire being posted to all these artists. Responses were received from 865 artists in ROI, equivalent to just over one in six of the estimated population of professional artists.

Survey findings for Republic of Ireland

Long working hours

In terms of gender breakdown, just over half (52%) of artists in ROI are women. The research shows that artists are a very highly educated group, with over two thirds having completed a university degree. They tend to work long hours, on average putting in more than 55 hours per week and frequently holding down other jobs to support their artistic endeavours. Many artists balance their work as artists with other work, either within or outside the arts, with only just over two in five ROI artists (41%) spending all their working time as artists.

The nature of many artists’ work patterns can lead to periods of unemployment. Some 23% of ROI artists had registered as unemployed in the year prior to the study, with the figures highest for those in the performing arts and film.

Low incomes

The average (mean) income of professional ROI artists from their work as artists was under €15,000 in 2008, with 50% of artists earning €8,000 or less from their work as artists. When income from all sources (including social welfare) is taken into account, the average (mean) income for an ROI artist in 2008 was just over €25,000, with 50% of artists earning €19,832 or less. Further analysis of the data shows that 25% of ROI artists had total personal incomes of €11,475 or less and 75% had total personal incomes of €31,000 or less in 2008.

In comparison, earnings data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that average 2008 earnings in the Irish private sector were €32,453, or 1.3 times the average earnings of an artist. Average public sector earnings in 2008 were €48,367, or 1.9 times the average income of an artist.

Lack of provision for pensions also spells financial hardship ahead for artists. The study found that 31% of ROI artists have made provision for a pension compared to 54% of all workers.

Long working hours and the irregular work patterns are also likely to be contributory factors to 48% of ROI artists stating that their artistic work makes it hard for them to achieve a good work–life balance and more than half saying that their careers involve high levels of stress.

Tony Dobbins, NUI Galway

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