The Irish Times view on Basic Income for Artists: an imaginative investment

The numbers suggest the scheme is having a real impact on the ability of artists to devote themselves to their work

When Minister for Arts Catherine Martin officially launched the pilot Basic Income for Artists (BIA) scheme in 2022, she promised its outcomes would be measured against a control group of artists who did not receive the payment. Yesterday, the results of the first full year of that process, up to October 2023, were published.

The numbers are promising and suggest that BIA is having a real impact on the ability of artists to devote themselves to their work. Recipients spent almost eight hours more per week on their creative practice. They invested ¤550 more per month – almost 40 per cent of their monthly payment – on equipment and materials, advertising and marketing, workspaces and work travel.

Recipients were also less likely to have been unable to work in the arts or to cite low pay as a reason for not being able to do so. They spent less time working in non-arts jobs and were more likely to be able to make their living through arts work alone. Not surprisingly, they experienced lower levels of material deprivation and substantially higher levels of life satisfaction.

Not everything is measurable, of course. The question of the quality of the works of art themselves can only be answered by posterity, but the report shows that the quantity has clearly increased; those who received the basic income have completed more pieces of work than those who didn’t.

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The BIA pilot is an imaginative intervention which has attracted international attention. It comes alongside a step change in State support for the cultural sector since 2020, with a near doubling of the allocation to the Arts Council and enhanced funding in other areas. Caution is advisable when discussing a direct correlation between increased funding and artistic excellence. But there is no denying the recent international acclaim for Irish artists working in literature, cinema and other fields. After decades of lip service and underinvestment, it is a new and refreshing experience to see those artistic achievements being matched by enthusiastic State support.