Pilot project in Ireland: Basic Income Trial

Pilot project in Ireland: Basic Income Trial

Ireland will unconditionally pay a salary to selected artists. In this way, those who do not already receive support should also be taken into account.

A light installation with floral motifs

Let the arts flourish: light installation at Dublin Zoological Gardens Photo: Christoph Soeder/dpa

A golden age is dawning for the arts in Ireland? At least 2,000 artists will receive a basic income of 325 euros per week from the government for the next three years. The sum is based on a 32-hour week and the minimum wage of 10.20 euros per hour. The money has to be taxed, it has now been paid out retrospectively since the end of August. A total of 25 million euros are available for the program.

It is a pilot project, which is why the experiment is scientifically monitored. It’s not about the quantity of the work, but you have to think in social dimensions, says Angela Dorgan, the managing director of the music development company First Music Contact.

You want to find out if and how such a basic income benefits society and how the work of artists is changing. “I want the arts not only to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but also to thrive,” said Culture Minister Catherine Martin from the Green Party, who is responsible for the project, at a press conference.

Of the 9,000 applicants for the pilot, 8,200 were deemed qualified. In the end, 2,000 of them were drawn: 707 visual artists, 584 musicians, 204 filmmakers, 184 writers, 173 actors, 32 dancers and choreographers, 13 circus artists and 10 architects. The selection was independent of assets.

Still dependent on additional income

Although the participants do not have to limit their secondary activities, they are included in the evaluation at the end of the test phase. Many will continue to depend on additional income. More than a third of them live in Dublin. In the Irish capital, the basic income is barely enough to pay the rent, and an apartment of 70 square meters is not available for less than 2,000 euros a month.

The idea came up during lockdown when it became clear how poor one is without art

The project is to be evaluated after a three-year test phase. 1,000 artists who were actually eligible but were not included serve as a control group in order to be able to better evaluate the project and the effect of the payment. If the result is satisfactory, other artists should benefit from the basic income.

“I am curious what we will learn from this pilot project,” Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) tells the Irish Times. “Our country is world-renowned for its creative industry, so it’s imperative that we create the right environment for artists to thrive and focus on their work.”

Robert Ballagh, one of the best-known Irish artists, who, among other things, designed the sets for Irish tap dance show Riverdance and designed the last Irish banknotes before the euro was introduced, doesn’t think much of the project. “It’s a farce,” he says of the taz. “A guilty lottery because artists were excluded from compensation payments during the corona pandemic.”

Tourism more important than art in lockdown

At that time, the focus was on the tourism sector, because it is one of the most important industries in Ireland. In addition, the payments are limited in time, Ballagh complains.

The idea for the project was during lockdown born. Many had realized how poor society would be without art and how difficult it is for many artists, says Culture Minister Catherine Martin. After the lockdown, there are now other problems, the energy crisis is driving up admission prices. A study by the Theater Forum has shown that cultural institutions are seeing 20 percent fewer visitors than before the pandemic.

This is of course linked to the increased cost of living, says Maureen Kennelly, director of the Arts Council, Ireland’s independent government agency for the development of the arts. “That’s why the local cultural centers have to play a bigger role in the future.”

She cites as an example the Arts Council’s joint venture with the Dublin Port Company to create an artists’ campus in the old Odlum flour mill. “The whole of society will benefit from such imaginative projects and partnerships,” she says. Ateliers, rehearsal stages, soundproof recording studios, practice rooms and rooms for workshops and conferences have been created on 15 floors with a total of 5,000 square meters.

“The importance of Irish culture, Irish arts and Irish productions in our country and on the international stage cannot be underestimated,” says Catherine Martin. “For generations, Irish artists have inspired people around the world: Seamus Heaney, James JoyceLouis Le Brocquy, Jack Butler Yeats, U2, Saoirse Ronan or Michael Fassbender, just to name a few.”

Part of Irish culture

Clare Duignan, chair of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce, convened by the Department of Culture during the pandemic in September 2020, reports: “The pilot project was the main recommendation of the taskforce, on which the members unanimously agreed.”

John Byrne, a Dublin-based artist from Belfast, agrees. “It’s a fantastic project,” says the 63-year-old of the taz. “But I didn’t apply because I’m a member of Aosdána and I get €20,000 a year for it.” Established in 1981, Aosdána supports artists who have made an exceptional contribution to the creative arts in Ireland. Membership is limited to 250 people, you cannot apply, you have to be proposed and elected.

This has brought accusations of nepotism against the organization. However, not only extremely successful artists benefit from the “cnuas”, as the financial injection is called, but also well-known people like Byrne who are not financially well endowed with roses. Some critics are therefore calling for Aosdána to be abolished and the measly budget of 0.1 percent of gross domestic product for culture to be increased so that younger and less successful artists can also benefit.

The project should now benefit them – at least some of them. “Art captures our past, shapes our present and paints our future,” says Martin. “That Irishness, shaped by our arts, we carry with us wherever we are in the world and it is what identifies us recognizable as Irish.”

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