For many artists in the UK surviving is by way of having a day job in addition to the creative one; a financial necessity but one that can place an incredible burden on an artist literally trying to do 2 full time jobs. With the increasing levels of automation many jobs that were once the main stay of creatives “other jobs” have been lost, making survival even harder to the extent that some creatives feel that they cannot take up artistic opportunities as they cannot afford to lose their day job; especially when the artistic job is either low paid or the famous “profit share”/for exposure. Added to which, many of those jobs that have not been lost to automation have become increasingly pressurised often with long hours attached; at the end of which you are barely able to eat and make it to bed. The prospect of having both the physical and mental strength to be creative after that is almost impossible and 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 the industries and those already in it are frequently told find a day job that you at least do not hate – however that is 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 job. In short giving artists breathing space without the job hunting pressure. Could the UK do something similar? As Anderson goes on to show 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 Ermin. 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 chance; I have met a number of performers who worked for theatre companies that were started through the scheme.
So should the UK follow Ireland’s lead, I believe absolutely. Our industry has a major issue where background, gender, class or ethnicity is a barrier to a would-be artists breaking into the industry, a risk that a career in the creative industries could be only for those with the means to be supported whilst they get started. Furthermore, I believe there is also a growing issue with career sustainability, with artists being force to leave the industry or effectively go part time due to financial pressures and with home/studio/work space rents and living costs all rising (and I am not gone to start on the cost/stress of artists who are working parents, that is another whole post). Creativity in the UK is a major contributor to the UK economy, Anderson quotes some powerful numbers as to just how much it benefits Glasgow alone: and such a scheme could only bring positive benefits to the UK as a whole in both financial terms and more importantly artistic one.
When speaking to Governments/Funding Bodies etc we frequently have to talk about economic contributions and targets: but for me reading Anderson’s article the biggest argument in favour of such a scheme lies in the personal. Like many artists I have been in that position of trying to balance a “day job” along with either creative work or trying to get/make creative work, the pressure of trying to be in 2 places/2 lives at the same time. Whilst I have managed to keep my head above water (so to speak) it is not hard to understand how this can push an artist too far. Such a scheme will give us, as Anderson says, breathing space and I believe make a major contribution to the mental health of artists, a topic that is finally being recognised and discussed. With this support artists would be able to grow and produce more and that will contribute immeasurable to the UK and in more than just economics.