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Welcome to a new era: Supporting the UK's Visual Artists

The profile image of DACS CEO, Christian Zimmermann. A white man in a suit in front of a brick wall.

As the UK welcomes the new Labour Government, DACS’ CEO Christian Zimmermann discusses how the UK’s visual artists can be better supported.

With Sir Keir Starmer delivering his victory speech at Tate Modern, this new Government signals renewed optimism for the UK’s visual arts. The creative industries have long been an essential part of the UK’s culture and economy, providing around 2.46 million jobs, contributing £126 billion to the UK’s GVA (Gross Added Value), and the UK Art Market being one of the largest in the world. We are encouraged by Labour’s pledge to make the creative industries a central part of their plans for growing the economy, and we believe that this is the right time to address the urgent policy issues that can uplift our artists and secure their futures.

Labour wants to change how the UK supports the future of work and those who are self-employed. Our ask, along with other organisations such as the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), for a Freelance Commissioner will help deliver this change. Freelancers make up a huge proportion of the jobs in the Creative Industries. 49% of the cultural sector workforce are freelancers, which is even higher for the visual arts, 70%, vastly exceeding the national average of 16%. The new Government has a unique opportunity to champion fair pay for artists and creators, who often earn less than the national average wage, despite their significant contributions.

DACS member and artist Charlotte Warne Thomas, has highlighted the difference a Freelancer Commissioner could make.

Freelance artists' fluctuating incomes and portfolio careers are poorly understood by Government - the appointment of a Freelance Commissioner is essential in advocating for policies which take into account the unique needs of creative freelancers.

Charlotte Warne Thomas

Establishing and appointing a Freelancer Commissioner - as recommended by the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee in their Creator Remuneration report, would bridge the gap between freelancers and policymakers. The role would ensure that the needs and interests of freelance visual artists and creative workers are permanently and consistently represented and understood within the Government and across departments. This is crucial for the future of all freelancers and to ensure fair treatment and support for those who fuel our creative economy, advocating for better pay, working conditions, and policies that recognise the diverse and essential roles freelancers play in the arts sector.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the world around us, including the art world, offering new tools and challenges. Labour’s manifesto assured us that they will guarantee the safe development and use of AI models, and ensuring that AI benefits artists by protecting their intellectual property and securing fair compensation for the use of their works, will be key in this endeavour.

Visual artists’ works provide the basis for the training of a lot of AI platforms, which risk to not only disincentivise artists, but also to substitute them. Artists therefore must be included in developing robust regulation of AI that complies with copyright law and incentivises human creativity whilst providing artists with the right to consent to the use of their works, give them control over how their works are being used, and to be compensated for the use of their works in AI training and applications. By setting clear guidelines and support systems, we can foster an environment where AI enhances rather than exploits artistic creativity.

Safeguarding the interests of artists in the age of AI requires a collective effort to establish robust regulations, promote fair compensation, and provide education and training to empower artists for this ever-evolving environment.

Adelaide Damoah
A photograph showing a red cloud low to the ground, with coniferous trees.
Landskip, 2000 Simon Patterson. Curated by Locus+, Compton Verney House.

Again, the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee Creator Remuneration report recognised the importance of creating a workable and secure legal framework for AI, to ensure that becoming a visual artist remains a viable career option in the future, if we want to safeguard human creativity continues to enrich our lives.

The Committee also recognised the importance of providing for a collective licensing solution for private copying uses of artists’ works. Fundamentally, it comes down to the question of how much we value artists and their works. The extension of collective licensing for private copying is crucial for artists to receive fair compensation. Establishing the Smart Fund – campaigned for by us and our partners ALCS, British Equity Collecting Society (BECS), PICSEL and Directors UK – will create new collective licensing revenue for artists, writers, performers, and directors when their copyright-protected works are copied, downloaded and stored across digital devices. It could result in up to £300 million a year for creators, entirely independent from Government funding.

DACS member and artist Yinka Shonibare CBE is one of many artists who are keen for the value of their works to be recognised, when downloaded, copied and stored by people on digital devices.

The Smart Fund is a no brainer. Currently, there isn’t an effective way for creators to be recompensed when their work is downloaded and stored by audiences. The Smart Fund provides for a way to invest in creative talent of all ages and backgrounds.

Yinka Shonibare

By bringing into law a right for creative workers to receive payment for private copying of their work, the Smart Fund mirrors private copy levy schemes that already operate successfully in 45 countries, including almost all of Europe. This will also enable UK creatives to continue to benefit from overseas schemes by creating reciprocity agreements between the UK and other countries, whilst encouraging people to enjoy and to celebrate artists and their works. Research has shown that similar schemes around the world have had no negative effect on the cost of devices to consumers, who in general are happy to recognise and reward creators for the use of their works. On top of that it is paramount that tech companies and the new Government recognise the change in how we all consume creative works, now predominantly in the digital environment, and how we can ensure the UK’s artists and creators can continue to practice.

We are excited by the huge potential that a change of Government presents, to create a thriving environment for visual artists and to enact change where change is overdue. By addressing these urgent policy issues—fair pay, AI Regulation, and establishing the Smart Fund—we can ensure that the UK's visual artists are supported, respected, and able to flourish.