This year marked the anniversaries of two significant developments in the State's commitment to the arts: the establishment of the Arts Council in 1951 and of Aosdána in 1981. While both anniversaries passed by without any fanfare due to Covid restrictions, a new and potentially far-reaching initiative in Government policy on support for individual artists was announced as part of the 2022 budget – a pilot scheme to provide both artists and arts workers with a basic income guarantee.
The scheme was welcomed as a “red letter day” by the National Campaign for the Arts, but that remains to be seen: the details have yet to be worked out and many questions yet to be answered regarding who will qualify and under what criteria.
The scheme, which has an initial budget of €25 million and will operate for three years, is particularly heartening after the hardships and losses of earnings imposed on all art forms by the venue closures and capacity restrictions.
Along with other demands on resources, the Government has been generous with its supports to alleviate the impact of these curbs. But, even in the best of times, stability is not one of the hallmarks of working in the arts and entertainment sector, making this pilot project a very positive outcome to a long-running campaign. The onus to see it implemented as soon as possible, and in an openly fair way, now stands with Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, who indicated that up to 2,000 artists could benefit from what she called a "once in a generation policy intervention".
Equally positive was the continuation of last year’s increase – long overdue – in the annual budget provided for the council, most of whose clients are perhaps facing another precarious year. Just as it seemed that theatres and music venues could safely reinstate full capacity, a return to limited numbers has become necessary with the advent of the Omicron variant. If we have to live alongside Covid for some time, full recovery in the arts sector will be a longer term prospect, making the proposed basic income even more urgent.