September 7th 2009 via Visual Artists Ireland
In the Taxation Commission report published today we see another attack on the Artists Tax Exemption Scheme. In the recommendation 8.98 the Commission has called for a complete abolition of the tax exemption. The fact that individual artists are one of the most economically deprived groups that punch above their own weight in their contribution to Irish society has been ignored.
In our recent survey, ‘The Social Economic and Fiscal Status of the Visual Artist in Ireland’ (published June 2009), Visual Artists Ireland shows that many of Ireland’s visual artists live below the poverty line. We have outlined that 67% of visual artists earn less than €10,000 from their creative works each year. A further 24% earn between €10,000 and €25,000. They are therefore dependent on additional supports to make ends meet. Our report shows that 33% of artists earn less than €10,000 in total earnings. A further 34% earn between €10,000 and €25,000. These total earnings are comprised of income from creative work, and part time or casual labour earnings that are subject to the normal levels of taxation. But, as with most sectors of the economy, opportunities for supplementing creative earnings are diminishing. Therefore, with these current recommendations we will see more and more visual artists being made to take advantage of the social welfare system to allow them to make ends meet.
Visual artists are also unique in that their primary purpose in creating artistic work is not so as to gain financial reward. The ethos that drives visual artists to make art is not economic. The act of creating is not motivated by profit and artists do not normally tailor their ‘product’ to an economic consumer. Visual artists also create on a continuous basis without any guarantee of financial success. Financially speaking this is a very high-risk strategy and the value of an artists’ work (economic or otherwise) may take many years to be recognised. The value therefore of what visual artists contribute is of immense worth. It is also worth noting that no consideration is made for the fact that visual artists are a part of the indigenous economy. Visual artists do no repatriate funds outside of the country. In fact, it is quite the opposite. By their very nature, visual artists who may utilise the Tax Exemption Scheme contribute these savings directly back into the Irish economy. The Tax Exemption Scheme is one of a small number of incentives that artists have to continue to remain in Ireland and to make work.
It has been noted that the largest subsidy to the cultural life of Ireland comes not from governments, corporations or other patrons, but from the artists themselves, through their unpaid or underpaid labour. Artists need the every incentive to continue to create. The withdrawal of the scheme would have an adverse effect not only on individual artists but on the arts sector as a whole and more especially on the public’s engagement with, and enjoyment of the arts in Ireland. In order to maintain a cultural climate we need to invest in our artists, we need to value and recognise what artists contribute and we need to create a sympathetic climate in which the arts can flourish. By abolishing Tax Exempt status for artists the government would remove one of the key incentives for artists to live, work and produce art in Ireland.
Ireland’s image abroad is consistently sold on its cultural heritage. The regeneration of our country as an attractive location for inward investment places great emphasis on the attractiveness of this cultural heritage. The Artists’ Tax Exemption Scheme has created an image of Ireland abroad as a liberal, forward-thinking country proud and confident of its own culture and one that values its creative practitioners. If the scheme were to be abolished not only would it be a blow to the artists who avail of the scheme but it would send out a signal internationally indicating a changing attitude of the Irish state to the value it places on the arts in Ireland.
In the short term the removal of the Artists’ Tax Exemption scheme may seem an attractive proposition to Government. Visual Artists Ireland believes, however, that the benefit derived from the removal of the scheme would be far outweighed by the problems it would create in the long term. There is always pressure on artists to become more self sufficient and not to rely so heavily on direct public subsidy in the production of their work. The Tax Exemption scheme is an indirect way of encouraging and facilitating the production of new work by creative artists without the need for direct grant aid. The removal of the Tax Exemption scheme would lead to further reliance on direct public subsidy for funding of the arts and place greater pressure on an already overstretched Arts Council, as well as placing yet more people on to the live register.