Monday, 29 September 2014

Scottish Artists Union AGM

As I made my journey from Newcastle up to Scotland I wondered what the atmosphere would be like following the referendum. 

I did not detect a deflated atmosphere that I'd been warned about, but maybe that was because of the nature of the event that I was attending: The Scottish Artists Union AGM, at which I was giving the Treasurers report.
Amongst the routine AGM business, the Scottish Artists Union AGM agenda was filled with stimulating presentations and debate.

Firstly, Angela Kennedy, Chair of the relatively newly formed Artists Union England (AUE), presented 'Solidarity across borders, Unionism in the arts - Activism and working collectively.' 

Angela discussed the factors that prompted the formation of the AUE, and what they set out to do.

"Artists’ Union England is a new trade union for professional visual and applied artists.

We aim to represent artists at strategic decision-making levels and positively influence the role artists play within society.

We aim to challenge the economic inequalities in the art world and to negotiate fair pay and better working conditions for artists.

We aim to work with other unions, arts organisations, government bodies and cultural institutions whilst remaining both independent and transparent.

We aim towards consensus decision-making, an active grass roots membership and involvement over a wide geographical spread."

Angela talked about how artist members have requested that AUE investigates factors including sexism, ageism, disability discrimination, low pay and zero hour contracts, and commented about the universality of these issues, hoping that because they are not just concerns for artists, that this will attract more general support and backing from non-artists.

More information about AUE can be found on their website, and I am looking forward to getting more involved.

Chris Kelly's presentation about the annual SAU Members Survey provided good support for some of the things that Angela had been talking about. This, the third members survey to be conducted, provides good data about working conditions of artists.

Some key figures include:

- in the year 2012-2013, 67% of SAU members earned £5,000 or less (after tax), and only 21% earned between £5000-£10000 (after tax)

- 62% of SAU members consistently get paid less than the SAU recommended rates of pay

- 48% of SAU members do not get contracts consistently

Given this evidence, it is difficult to understand why people are questioning why artists need a union. We discussed the kind of direction that members want the union to take.

This lead neatly to Harry Giles' video presentation titled 'Politics and economics post-referendum, whatever the result'
Giles talked about the need to be prepared for cuts in taxes and in funding. He was recently artist in residence at Govanhill Baths, and was delighted at the way that different groups within the community had come together to work towards a single aim. He proposed that this would be a good model to follow for the unions, rather like the way that two communities (Lesbians and Gays and the National Union of Mineworkers) supported each other, as documented in the recent film, Pride, which I saw last week. 

Pride is a powerful account of a true story, and follows the Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners campaign. It shows what can be achieved when different groups work together to essentially fight for the same basic human rights. 

Applying this to our current climate, we discussed how different unions could find a common cause in the interest of all the members. Such issues could include universal credit and different forms of discrimination.

The day was brought to an end with a short presentation by Jack Richardson on the Paying Artists campaign. 
"Launched on 19 May, the Paying Artists campaign seeks to raise awareness of the value of artists within publicly-funded exhibitions and gallery programmes.
Informed both by independent research into artists' perceptions of the value of the exhibition process within their practice along with data on their income from arts practice, and in-depth interviews with artists at a range of career stages and with curators and gallery directors about their approaches and practices, the campaign aims to secure the future of the visual arts in the UK through creating equality of opportunity for artists, based on their talent and potential for innovation rather than on their ability to self-finance their exhibitions when held in publicly-funded galleries.
The research and campaign, which is a combined effort beween a-n - The Artists Information Company and AIR - Artists Interaction and Representation, has attracted a groundswell of support from across the UK and internationally, highlighting artists' pay and working conditions as a "global issue"."
For more information visit

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