Equal rights, not special rights – new study calls for improved working conditions for artists

 

Being an artist in 2019

At the heart of the cultural and creative industries are people. Artists and cultural professionals innovate, inspire, entertain and challenge norms, their creations constantly energizing people and the economy. While the role of music, books and films in our lives may be vivid and evident, the labour that goes into making these products often remain under-recognized and undercompensated.

A new UNESCO study Culture & Working Conditions for Artists uncovers persisting and emerging challenges artists and cultural professionals face and examines how countries around the world are addressing these issues through policymaking.  The study is based on a quadrennial global survey conducted in 2018 on the impact of the Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist, designed to track developments and identify emerging trends related to the status of the artist: over 90 responses from UNESCO Member States and non-governmental organizations were received.

 

Dignified working condition - far from reality

The research has made several concerning discoveries regarding the status of artists today. A substantial gender difference exists in cultural occupations, with around 28% female workers employed on part-time basis compared to 18% in male counterparts. This has a long-term negative impact on the economic and social well-being of female cultural professionals: contractual, freelance or intermittent employment results in lower tax contributions, leading to lower access to social securities, welfare provisions, and pensions. The digital disruption in the creative sector also presents new issues such as fair compensation and intensified competition due to online platforms and streaming services. Another obstacle to a dignified working condition for artists is the restrictions on travel. Refugee crisis and terror threats in recent years have heightened the global security level, resulting in an increased number of rejected visas and restrictions of free movement among artists  – especially for those from the Global South.

“Recognizing the essential role of art in the life and development of the individual and of society, Member States have a duty to protect, defend and assist artists and their freedom of creation.” The Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist was adopted in 1980 with the goal of improving professional, social and economic status of artists. It calls for “the necessary steps to see that artists enjoy the same rights as… a comparable group of the active population in respect of employment and living and working conditions,” including a provision of income protection, social security and special tax conditions, given “the intermittent nature of employment and the sharp variations in the incomes of many artists.” As Culture & working conditions for artists demonstrates, nearly four decades after this milestone for artists’ rights, the vision of 1980 is far from reality.

 

Working together to fairly compensate creative labour

Culture & Working Conditions for Artists, however, sheds light on some positive developments. Across the world, there are initiatives to design new – or adapt existing – copyright laws and tax measures to meet the needs of artists in the digital environment. Through innovative policymaking, governments are making strides to remunerate artists fairly on- and off-line. The research has also learned that there are programmes in the Global South that extend social benefits to artists including health insurance, medical care, pensions, and unemployment insurance. It is the first time artists in emerging cultural and creative industries are entitled to such tangible and comprehensive benefits. This precedence may encourage other countries to provide social protections that take into account the special features of artistic work characterized by the intermittent employment and fluctuations in their income.

Artists do not want special rights, but equal rights.

 

Since a wide range of issues are associated with the status of the artist, policymaking to enhance the social and economic entitlements of artist is not straightforward. Contrary to today’s common practice, creating a “cultural” policy often produces fragmented and insufficient results. It requires a strong political commitment and cooperation among all government departments including ministries of labour, social affairs, culture, education, communication, foreign affairs, justice, and taxation. In an era where artistic workers face potential threats from digital technologies, restriction of transnational mobility, widening gender gap and attack on artistic freedom, such an integrated approach has never been more essential for the overall health of the creative sector.

Launched on 21 November as part of the Policy & Research series, the study was funded by the Aschberg Programme for Artists and Cultural Professionals and consolidated by the Secretariat of the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, a landmark legal instrument that advocates for a dynamic and inclusive development of the creative sector including the advancement of artists’ rights. Through two groundbreaking international instruments – 1980 Recommendation and 2005 Convention – UNESCO continues to advocate for a world where contemporary, artistic and diverse expressions, the symbol of the functioning democracy, illuminate our lives and stimulate our minds.

Artists do not want special rights, but equal rights. The fourth instalment of the Policy and Research series hopes to inspire future policies that put artists on an equal footing.