Catherine Martin, Irish Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, was in Westminster recently at the invitation of Clare Hanna MP who is chair of the Performers Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group. She had been invited to talk about the Irish Basic Income for the Arts scheme, an innovative pilot scheme which has the potential to transform how the arts in funded in Ireland.

Minister Martin started by quoting Turner: "It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create." 

The scheme emerged as the number one recommendation of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce, established in 2020 to determine how best to support the arts after the devastation of Covid-19. Research showed many in the arts in the South having to take on jobs outside of the sector. In the North of Ireland, the Arts Council reported recently that the arts workforce shrank by a third compared to pre-pandemic numbers. What particularly caught my eye was Minister Martin's statement that: "A basic income will be offered to artists and creative arts workers, not as a social protection support, but instead in recognition of the intrinsic value of artistic practice, therefore allowing artists and creatives to focus on their practice and be compensated appropriately for it."

These words are music to many artists' ears. The scheme attracted over nine thousand applications (eight thousand applicants met the criteria) with two thousand participants randomly selected. A payment of 325 euros per week is available with the first payments having started a couple of weeks ago. 

At a cost of one hundred million euro to implement, the scheme will go beyond ideas in other countries such as France and Finland, so expectant eyes from around the globe will be watching the results closely.  Although the pilot is part of the Irish Government's National Economic Recovery plan, there is no guarantee that the programme will continue or be mainstreamed. One of the key aims of the programme is to "enable artists and creative arts workers to focus on artistic production/practice without having to enter into employment in other sectors to sustain themselves." The fact that it exists at all is something to celebrate.

Minister Martin finished her speech by reminding listeners that Turner: The Sun is God exhibition is currently showing at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin until February 6. It features over eighty pieces of his work from the Tate collection seen in Ireland for the first time. Open seven days a week with free entry for refugees, carers, children under eighteen and discounts midweek for online booking.