Petition Buse #2 : A Call to End the Logic of Financial Aid and to Guarantee Income Continuity for All Art Workers


cotisations sociales
Disseminating Structures, Spread the Word!

Last spring we published a statement, “Let’s not support artists, let’s pay art workers!” in response to the statement published by directors of French art institutions entitled “The Art World Unites / # Let’s Support Contemporary Artists.”
In the latter, those who wrote the letter asked the state to increase the acquisition budgets for museum and Frac (French regional contemporary art collections financed by the state) collections; for more money to “support” research and production; for “material assistance” for recently graduated art students; an increased budget for public art commissions; and finally, “a real status for artists-authors.”1

¬ In our response, we demonstrated that only 0.6% of artists are concerned by the acquisition of artworks2, and that putting artists-authors in a category of people to help incites the lack of recognition for the work that is done. This also leads to the multiplication of complex grants that very few artists-authors, in the end, benefit from. To really support artists, it is necessary to recognise the value of the work they produce. This could be achieved by the improvement of the existing status and the rights it offers.

Our statement thus proposed a set of specific actions to offer new rights – such as an unemployment insurance system – to self-employed art workers. The status that we have envisioned includes a plan for income continuity and rights within professional engagements. We proposed that it could be financed not only by increasing the laughable contribution that disseminating structures – that is to say, the structures (museums, art centres, galleries, etc.) that contribute to the circulation of artworks – currently pay when they solicit the work of artists-authors in France (1.1% of the gross remuneration, against 46% of employer contributions in the entertainment sector).

Following the publication of our article, we met with disseminating structures wishing to “support” artists as we also submitted our proposal to them. Many confided that they had no power in implementing such measures, nor could they defend such measures before elected officials because public cultural institutions (as well as the people who run them) are they themselves struggling. In parallel to our conversations with various disseminating structures, we have also met with the financing entities (the Ministry of Culture, the DRAC – the state’s regional branches managing cultural affairs) who state that there is nothing they can do because they are subject to the decisions made by the Ministry of Finance.

¬ Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture announced to the trade unions its next particularly reticent actions for the visual arts sector that would only benefit a limited number of people: a project for the transfer of rights so that artists can be remunerated during future exhibitions of works acquired by public collections, the dissemination of recommendations for remuneration in museums, etc.

Our proposal has nevertheless resonated with certain political groups such as France Insoumise (FI), and more specifically with members of the French Communist Party (PCF). For several months, a task force has been imagining a bill to propose replacement income for artists-authors. The text is to be presented before the National Assembly soon. We would thus like to take advantage of these parliamentary debates to call on disseminating structures to reconsider their involvement with art workers, to support the implementation of a real status for art workers and to promote our initiative.

1 A literal translation of the French term “artistes-auteur·ices” which is applied to all creators (visual artists, writers, translators, curators, designers, and so forth).

Work, in General…

Today, the economic conditions of artistic practice remain catastrophic, particularly in the field of visual arts. If the people working in institutions are for the most part protected by common law, visual artists and people of similar professions (art handlers, curators, critics, mediators, translators, etc.) have very little social protection and are subjected either to the uncertainties of an unequal market or to the hunt for funding which, although public, remains part of the neoliberal logic of the “project”.

Thus, a massive financial precariousness exists within these sectors, the extent of which can surprise even specialists of the subject: 48% of visual artists earn less than 5,000 euros a year with their artistic revenue; or 52% if we were to consider women only. If we add up all of their resources, including those outside the field of art (employment, day jobs, pensions, social assistance, annuity, etc.), their median annual income amounts to 15,000 euros for men and 10,000 euros for women3.

A majority of artists are thus well below the poverty line. At the beginning of the health crisis, many workers could not even declare a sufficient income to benefit from COVID relief efforts.

2 Figures from public acquisitions of artworks (CNAP and FRAC) in 2019.

[ u]COVID Relief Efforts: When a Capitalist Government Spreads the Idea of Income Continuity in Spite of Itself[/u]

Waged and self-employed works have nevertheless experienced income continuity outside of the workplace during the lockdown. The rare artists-authors that received COVID relief funding also thus learned that their work has value in its own right, beyond the possibility of selling or distributing it through art institutions. Some artists have been able to conduct their research with a regular income, whereas in the normal course of events, anything peripheral to sales or commissions is rarely considered worthy of remuneration.

¬ Are artists-authors thus workers who deserve recognition and remuneration, but only temporarily, during a crisis? It is urgent to shift the perspective: during the pandemic, too many artists-authors have been forgotten by the “whatever it takes”4 attitude, and too few benefit from the basic rights of social protection. How can we facilitate access and develop the status of independent art workers?

3 Bruno Racine, “The Author and the Act of Creation”, 2019, p. 25.

What We Have, What We Want

Since the end of the 1970s, artists-authors have had a social security system linked to the general system, which means that they have employee rights. Yet, their income comes from intellectual property (copyright) and freelance work (fees). To calculate their benefits, social security converts their income into a volume of hours based on minimum wage. This is called financial equivalence.

Example: today the gross hourly rate is 10.48 euros. An illustrator earning 8,000 euros in 2021 would thus be able to claim 763 hours based on minimum wage.5 Thanks to this conversion, the social security system establishes an entry threshold and gives independent workers the same rights as employed workers have.

When speaking of an unemployment insurance system for artists-authors, certain people involved as well as certain heads of cultural institutions respond by saying that it is not possible because they are paid by the hour. According to a popular belief, artists-authors could not enter a system such as the intermittent workers system6, where access is conditional on the validation of a number of hours (to date, 507 over the last 12 months). In fact, this objection stems from a misunderstanding of how the social security system works, which already converts our income into a volume of hours.

¬ Currently, artists-authors contribute 16% of their earnings to the social security system.7 Disseminating structures pay an additional contribution of 1.1% of gross earnings. These contributions give the right to health insurance from the first euro received, as well as four quarters of retirement and sick and maternity leave from 6,000 euros of annual income. However, regardless of their income, artists-authors have no benefits in case of work accident or work-related illness, nor do they benefit from unemployment insurance. With such high entry thresholds and low benefits, social coverage for artists is substandard and the contribution is unpopular.

In our proposal, rights would be more accessible and the disseminating structures would be required to contribute more. Artists-authors would thus contribute 17% of their earnings whereas disseminating structures would contribute 5.15% of gross earnings.8 For every 100 euros of income, an artist-author would pay 17 euros in contributions to which their disseminating structure would add 5.15 euros.9 Thanks to these contributions, they would have access to health insurance from the first euro received, as well as to all other rights from 3,000 euros of annual income (revenue): insurance for unemployment, worker’s compensation and work-related illness; full retirement, sick leave and maternity leave.

4 Only 15 to 20% of artists-authors have had access to COVID relief efforts (all measures combined: solidarity fund for small businesses, emergency aid from the CNAP and the CNL, etc.).
5 8,000/10.48 = 763.36.
6 In French, intermittence refers to the system adapted by the entertainment industry for intermittent workers (actors, singers, costume designers, and so forth). The individuals working within this system are considered as “intermittent·es du spectacle”, literally meaning “intermittent workers in show business”.
7 The current contribution rate varies significantly according to the tax system.

A Major New Feature: Income Would No Longer Be Based Solely On Sales and Fees

In addition to facilitating access to current rights and beginning to recognize work-related accidents and illnesses, the new feature of our proposal is the creation of an unemployment insurance system designed as a right to income continuity. Between two sales or two freelance jobs, our status as workers does not change. Our official status thus must therefore be maintained over time, and an increasingly important part of our income must become a personal right.

Unemployment compensation would be open to all artists-authors whose annual income is equal to 3,000 euros10, or the equivalent of 286 hours based on minimum wage rates. The amount would be calculated according to the income of the last 12 months and a replacement rate that would allow for a compensation as close as possible to the working wages.

We believe that it is not acceptable that pensions and allowances are below or equal to the poverty line. We therefore propose a minimum monthly compensation of 1,700 euros. This figure corresponds to the minimum wage demanded by the most militant trade unions and to the level of decent income according to the Directorate for Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (DREES).

¬ We also recommend a maximum compensation of 3,400 euros so that the scale of replacement incomes stays within a ratio of 1 to 2.

8 i.e. 1.1% of current disseminating structures’ contribution + 4.05% of unemployment contribution.
9 It should be noted that the disseminating structures’ contribution is added to the gross remuneration. It should not be deducted from the gross salary.
10 Article 65 of law n° 2020-935, July 30, 2020 of rectifying finances for 2020 grants a coverage of social contributions to artists-authors whose artistic income is a minimum of 3,000 euros per year – thus recognizing their professionalism.

Drawing Inspiration from the Intermittent Worker Unemployment Insurance System

These proposals may seem ambitious, but they are based on a system that has a long history, the intermittent workers systems. These already established systems allow us to reconsider the work/income relationship and to affirm that our social identity as workers should not depend on the structurally uncertain nature of work commitments in the cultural field. As our proposal of unemployment insurance is a contestation of the paradigm of employment, it aims to re-politicise our relationship to work and to go beyond the capitalist understanding that reduces any alternative employment to a logic of aid or charity.

On the contrary, the unemployment insurance that we defend aims to be inspired by the political sense of the intermittent worker unemployment insurance system that considers each person as a full producer of economic value by bringing the principles of self-organisation to a systemic level.

Re-Politicise our Relationship to Work

This movement does not only focus on the symbolically valorised historical figure of the artist-author, but must be extended to all independent art workers (art handlers, curators, critics, mediators, graphic designers, translators, producers, etc.).

More generally, because of its deep political meaning, this movement seems to us to be generalised beyond the cultural sectors: it is associated with all social movements and the innumerable professional sectors that have been rallying for decades to fight against a precariousness that, under the blows of the neoliberal “reforms”, extends to the heart of traditional employment. We are thus convinced that a seemingly sectoral movement could in fact allow for a broader rethinking of the very notion of “work”, whose definition should not be pre-empted by a restricted social group whose favours should be begged. We imagine this reassessment as both a point of convergence of struggles and an unavoidable stake if we want to respond to the various emergencies that we face.

SNAP-CGT (National Union of Visual Artists-General Confederation of Labour)
STAA (Union of the Artists-Authors Workers)
SNÉAD-CGT (National Union of Art and Design Schools-General Confederation of Labour)
SUD Culture Solidaires (Solidarity, Unity and Democracy)

Translated by Katia Porro.