UK Government support of artists debated in the House of Lords

    The UK Government’s support of individual artists was the subject of a recent debate in the House of Lords, on Monday 19 January 2015. Discussion centred on the issues affecting artists today such as pay, intellectual property rights, studio space, public funding cuts and arts education. 

    Addressing the concerns of artists

    Leading the hour long debate was crossbench peer, the Earl of Clancarty, Nick Trench, who tabled the discussion to call on the Government to address the concerns of today’s artists.
    He was joined by nine peers from across the political spectrum, including the Conservative peer, Lord Patten; Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury and Labour peer, Baroness Thornton.
    DACS welcomed the opportunity to brief the peers in advance on issues regarding visual artists’ copyright, the Artist’s Resale Right and royalties. 

    Concerns regarding pay, and the exploitation of artists

    In his introduction, the Earl of Clancarty argued, “We have never had an arts policy in this country that has properly prioritised the makers and the production of art.”
    “…in our current climate of cuts and greater commercialisation, many artists occupy a position at the bottom of a food chain, and are, as a result, being increasingly exploited. Fine artists, musicians and others are, more and more often, being asked to offer their services for free.”
    He called for the Government to address the issue of artists’ pay, highlighting our 2010 research into artists’ salaries, which found that in the UK, the median annual wage for fine artists was just £10,000 and for photographers, just £15,000.
    Artists and the wider arts and culture sector are increasingly mobilising around issues of pay and funding cuts through campaigns such as A-n’s Paying Artists and the Artists’ Assembly against Austerity. 2014 also saw the founding of the Artists’ Union England. With the 2015 general election drawing closer, he argued, artists and the wider sector are increasingly interested in seeing the reversal of funding cuts and further consideration of individual artists in arts policy.

    Protecting artists’ income through royalties

    Important points were made about the need to protect artists’ income in royalties. The Earl of Clancarty emphasised the benefits of the Artist’s Resale Right (ARR), which, by providing artists a small royalty each time their work sells on the art market, is an important contribution to their income. Addressing the issue of art dealers illegally failing to comply with ARR, he asked the Government what measures it will take to enforce royalty payments.
    Responding for the Government, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jolly highlighted the advantages of the royalties generated by ARR for artists and their estates. She continued: “The European Commission has a commitment periodically to review the implementation and effects of the directive governing the Resale Right. In formulating any contribution to the Commission’s review, the Government will take due account of a range of available evidence from artists, their representatives and art market professionals.” DACS will continue to contribute evidence on behalf of artists and estates to this consultation.  
    On the subject of royalties, the Earl of Clancarty also asked the Government what help it could provide in safeguarding visual artists’ income through Payback royalties, referencing our ongoing conversation with the CLA regarding visual artists’ share of royalties from photocopying and scanning licences.

    The need for a robust copyright framework

    Responding to the Earl of Clancarty, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Maclennan of Rogart made an important argument about the benefit of intellectual property in arts and culture, firmly placing copyright on the agenda in the discussion of support for artists.

    He argued the importance of copyright royalties as a source of income for artists, and stressed that greater understanding of copyright and the damaging effects of infringement will nurture more respect for artists and the value of their creativity.
    Though he acknowledged recent progress by the UK Government in this area, he argued that it must do more to strengthen the copyright framework and support a widespread programme of education – commending the recommendations for an educational framework by former Intellectual Property Advisor, MP Mike Weatherley.
    He argued: “It is vital that intellectual property education begins at a young age, as early appreciation of the value of creation and innovation can serve to support a positive association with the concept [of copyright]…High-quality educational materials are needed, but not enough exist or are well known about.”

    Catch up on the debate

    Overall, the debate in the House of Lords was a promising and timely discussion which saw a number of peers call for increased support for artists in the areas of intellectual property, public funding and education.
    Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury argued that education is crucial in sustaining the UK’s arts and culture sector and called for more access to arts education in state schools. Crossbench peer Baroness Kidron, meanwhile, criticised the UK’s top-down funding structures which unfairly disadvantage artists. She also criticised the criteria against which funding decisions are made, arguing that demands for artists to serve a greater, more ‘useful’ function in society impedes quality and goes against the intrinsic purpose of art. 
    You can catch up on the points discussed in the debate at the links below:
    Find out about our support initiatives for artists and their estates.

    Image: Artist Martina Schmücker in her studio. Photograph by Brian Benson © Brian Benson, 2015.

    Posted on 26/01/2015 by Laura Ward-Ure