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Retaining Staff and Paying Artists in a Squeezed Creative Sector

A combination of factors – increasing employment, rising rents, an underfunded arts sector and a growing tech sector – will put pressure on creative employers to find and retain good staff.

With 60,000 new jobs being created in the Irish economy in 2017 according to IBEC and employment growth figures back at 2007 levels, employers in the creative sector will be forced to compete harder for their most important resource – good staff.

Employers are also under financial pressure from existing staff with calls for pay restoration in response to a gradually improving economy.

Pressure from employees is increased by an out of control rental market; rents have risen by 12% year-on-year to June 2017 and more particularly in creative centres like Cork, Galway and Dublin. In Dublin rents are now 18% above peak prices in 2008 and 21.4 percent above peak prices in Galway.

The inevitable result will be entry-level to middle-management staff seeking pay increases simply to remain living within commuting distance of work.

But despite an overall increase in funding for the Department of Arts since 2008, there has been a 22% decrease in Arts Council funding during the same period.

While particular national institutions such as the National Gallery and National Library have benefited from increased Department of Arts funding which was funnelled through the Creative Ireland programme, the hundreds of smaller arts organisations who rely on Arts Council funding to maintain thousands of jobs are suffering from this policy.

These smaller arts organisations will find it difficult to meet demands from existing staff for increases in pay. They’ll find it difficult to attract new staff, particularly when competing with employers in other creative industries offering significantly better wages. They’ll also struggle to live up to the main tenets of ‘Making Great Art Work’, the Arts Council’s policy document which focuses heavily on developing “economically viable careers” for artists.

As is plain to see from the number of Development Officer jobs appearing on Creative Careers in recent months, organisations are looking for alternative sources of funding, particularly from corporate or philanthropic sources.

Many organisations will be hoping Leo Varadkar’s commitment to double arts funding over five years in not just hyperbole. (It’s not the first time he’s promised to double things by 2025.) But the answer is not a simple increase in funding for the Department of Arts. A greater proportion of that increase must go the Arts Council who have a proven record of turning relatively small amounts of money into a significant number of jobs and opportunities in the Arts sector.

The National Campaign for the Arts has called for an increase “of at least 20% to Arts Council core funding, excluding one-off commemorative events or Creative Ireland initiatives” in the 2018 Budget. They want the government to provide a clear plan as to how they will deliver on their promises, i.e. a road map of the annual increases to funding each year for the next five.

The focus on Arts Council funding is essential as it can ensure – better than the Department or Creative Ireland – that increases in funding filter down to artists as well as the staff of creative organisations. Artists are often the last people to feel the benefit of increased funding, particularly after a recession, where organisations use initial increase to reform and restructure. However, through policy and funding – and by addressing the implementation of minimum payments for artists on a sector by sector basis – the Arts Council are best placed to ensure a fairer deal for everyone in the sector.

Brendan Mac Evilly, Recruitment Associate with Creative Careers


(Creative Careers is not funded by or affiliated with the Arts Council.)