Aosdána, an association representing 250 leading writers, musicians and other artists, has lobbied the Arts Council to raise the threshold of income its members can earn annually without losing their entitlement to the Cnuas, a means-tested €20,180 bursary paid to 140 of its members.
Recipients include musician Dónal Lunny, artist Brian Maguire, writer Patrick McCabe and poet Paul Durcan. Those getting the Cnuas can earn up to €25,770 without losing access to the annual payment.
In October writer Anne Haverty, chairwoman of An Toscaireacht, a committee of 10 members that runs Aosdána, wrote to the chair and members of the Arts Council asking them to raise the threshold to €30,000 to reflect increases in the cost of living.
Ms Haverty, who is also a recipient of the Cnuas, said the cost of living index had already been used to raise the value of the bursary from € 17,000 a year to €20,180.
“The Cnuas comes with a non-Cnuas income threshold historically pinned at 1.5 times the value of the Cnuas. This non-Cnuas threshold, tracking the Cnuas, should thus be set at €30,000, consistent with the same cost of living index that was then used to set the value of the Cnuas,” Ms Haverty wrote to the Arts Council.
She said the stipend had only recently been returned to its 2013 level after a series of cuts prompted by the post-Celtic Tiger recession.
“When the financial crisis resulted in a severe cut to the council’s budget, Aosdána, at its general assembly, voted to ask the council to freeze the final increment and to devote the money saved to artists’ bursaries,” she said. “With the improvement in the council’s finances, the Cnuas finally reached €20,000 in 2021.”
She said despite the increase in the Cnuas, the non-Cnuas income threshold had not increased.
“We are told that this figure was proposed by KPMG, but we have been given no rationale for the recommendation; and neither can we think of one. We therefore respectfully request of the council that the historical norm of 1.5 times the value of the Cnuas be restored,” Ms Haverty wrote.
A copy of the KPMG review of the Cnuas, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the Arts Council was told that raising the threshold of non-Cnuas income to €30,270, 1.5 times the Cnuas, would cost the Arts Council an additional €484,320 annually because the number of recipients entitled to claim it would likely rise from about 140 to 164. The total cost to the Arts Council would be €3,309,520 annually.
KPMG, which submitted its report to the Arts Council in June 2021, said someone earning other income of €30,270 and receiving a Cnuas payment of €20,180, would have a total income of €50,450 — €1,500 above Ireland’s average earnings in 2019 of €48,946.
However, it said the average recipient of the Cnuas earned only €11,000 apart from their annual Arts Council stipend. It noted visual artists made up 49 per cent of recipients and their annual income is the lowest of any of the categories in Aosdána, apart from choreographers.
Instead of increasing both the Cnuas and the non-Cnuas income threshold, it recommended “a staged approach”, allowing for “a more gradual increase in the Arts Council funding requirement”.
It said there was a strong case for increasing the Cnuas to €20,180 immediately, a recommendation the Arts Council subsequently implemented, because of the modest earnings of most beneficiaries.
“Someone earning the ‘average other income’ of recipients in 2020 (€11,000) together with the higher Cnuas of €20,180 would still earn well below the average total earnings in Ireland of €48,946,” it said.