For many artists in the UK, survival is by way of a day job, in addition to the creative one. A financial necessity, but one that can place an incredible burden on an artist trying to do 2 full-time jobs. Increasing levels of automation have led to the loss of many jobs that were once the mainstay of creatives “other jobs”, making survival even harder. Artists can find themselves unable to take up artistic opportunities as they cannot afford to lose their day job; especially when the artistic job is low paid or the famous “profit share”/”for exposure”. Many of those remaining jobs have become increasingly pressurised, with long hours require. At the end of which you can barely eat and make it to bed. Finding the physical and mental strength to be creative after that is almost impossible. Once the lack of being creative has started, it is very easy for it to spiral downwards into not being creative at all. Those coming into and those already in the industry are frequently told to find a day job that you at least do not hate – easier said than done.
So an article in Tuesday’s The Guardian “If we value artists, we should pay them benefits–Ireland is leading the way” by artist and writer Penny Anderson immediately caught my interest. From September 2019 Ireland plans to extend a pilot scheme for visual artists and writers started in June 2017 to all artists, allowing them to claim benefits for up to a year without the “activation process”, having to look for a “day” job. In short, giving artists breathing space without the day job pressure. Could the UK do something similar? As Anderson states, the UK did with the old Enterprise Allowance scheme, which started in 1981 and ran for around 10 years. During its time the scheme supporting the starting of Creation Records, the Turner Prize winner artist Jeremy Deller and nominee Tracey Emin. I came into the industry at the end of the scheme and over the years have heard many others speak of it positively as giving them this similar opportunities. .
So should the UK follow Ireland’s lead, I believe it should. Our industry has a major issue where gender, class, ethnicity or disability are barriers to breaking into and/or sustaining a career in the industry. Career sustainability is a growing issue with artists being forced to leave the industry or effectively go part time due to financial pressures. Home/studio/work space rents and living costs all rising and the constant uncertainty of obtaining work. Artistic careers are in danger of becoming the preserve of those who can afford them. This not only risks the UK artistic community being less diverse, but producing a narrower, less diverse, less risk taking, ground-breaking work; leading to new art forms and new practices being silenced. Precisely the work that the UK is renowned for producing.
I will leave the last word to Louise Brealey in a 2012 article in The Guardian; “a lot of people who’ve stopped acting because they were paying the bills with temping and telesales and in the end it ground them down. It’s hard to stick with it if you’re breaking your heart in TFI Friday’s every night,” she adds. “That’s fine when you’re starting out, but after a decade it can get a bit wearing.”