Praxis was founded a year ago by a group of artists who came together to create a united democratic representation for their trade. Since then over 400 artists have expressed an interest in membership. The union aims to unite artists working across all disciplines, including visual art, theatre, literature, comedy, dance, circus, and craft, among others, to improve their living and working conditions.
At their first Annual General Meeting (AGM) earlier this month, members of Praxis overwhelmingly voted in favour of the union tackling the Arts Council of Ireland’s funding process. The union launches with a campaign to address this ‘unfit for purpose’ system and is requesting that the Arts Council consult with the union to #AskTheArtist and make their funding procedures ‘artist-centred’.
Grants via The Arts Council of Ireland are the main source of public funding available to individual artists. However, they are extremely competitive: the vast majority of eligible applications will not receive any funding, yet artists are expected to invest significant time in their applications; with artists losing up to a month’s work to the highly bureaucratic process. As the pandemic has reduced work opportunities over the past year, more and more artists have found themselves turning to these lengthy grants processes for income.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made arts work even more precarious. However, artists seeking to make an income from their work have always had an unstable existence in Ireland. In a study commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2010, they found that there remained a massive gender pay gap in the industry, artists were making 1.5 times less than an average worker in the North, 58% of Republic of Ireland artist households were finding it difficult to make ends meet, and one-third of artists did not have written work contracts. Many Praxis members, and a number of studies since then, highlight that these issues have improved little, or not at all, over the decade.
On the topic of industry conditions, Communications Officer for Praxis, and Filmmaker and Media Producer Azzy O’Connor, cites; “a lack of security, work contracts and a living wage. You can’t pay for childcare or rent with ‘exposure’ or ‘possibilities’, yet the arts seems to be the only industry where that’s an acceptable rate of pay.”
As the COVID-19 restrictions on arts and culture continue indefinitely, recently elected Chairperson and visual artist, Kerry Guinan, argues that the new trade union could really help artists;
“People often think of artists as individuals who work alone. However, in reality artists are always collaborating and inspiring each other. We at Praxis believe that working together will help us to improve our working conditions, just as it helps us improve our art.”
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