Our Submission to the Cultural Strategy

Our Submission to the Cultural Strategy


The Scottish Artists Union made this submission to the Scottish Government's Cultural Strategy.


The Scottish Government asked for submissions to their draft Cultural Strategy document, you can read it here.

The submissions were structured around the format of the document, below are the responses the Scottish Artists Union made.


The Scottish Artists Union note with regret the omission of any explicit reference to craft making and the applied arts sector within the strategy.


The Scottish Artists Union believe that individual artists must be included as strategic thinkers supporting the cultural leadership post. For there to be credibility in the cultural leadership post they must be seen to be listening to artists and not just powerful institutions within the cultural sector.

The appointment of any new 'Culture Tsar' leadership role must directly address the following questions:

  • Will artists be involved in the selection of the person appointed?

  • Will the person have any recent grassroots experience of working in the arts?

  • Will that person be accessible and accountable to the arts community?

The Scottish Artists Union recognise the contribution the trade union movement makes to the wider society and supports the inclusion of all of Scotland’s creative industries’ unions to participate in any new national partnership for culture.

Let us be confident enough to trust that culture brings incredible benefits and focus on creating a sustainable healthy accessible cultural sector instead.

“We recognise that artists inspire agency and change within their communities and they play an essential roles in public life.” Visual Arts Manifesto

Artists are also active citizens - members of community councils, school governors, community groups and movements for change across our society. The union welcomes the opportunity to be involved directly in this, working with others in the visual arts and in the trade union movement.


The Scottish Artists Union supports the principles of culture as a human right, that culture should be artist and public-centred and funded, owned and delivered at the most local and democratic level as possible. The Visual Arts Manifesto states that 'we commit to openness in our discussion, and understanding, of the barriers that affect people working in the visual arts and those who do not participate.'

“We insist that the potential of learning through the arts is seen as crucial in helping to change and shape children and young people’s lives and we maintain that learning can play a nourishing and vital role for all of us, throughout our lives.” Visual Arts Manifesto


The Scottish Artists Union insist that there is a real term increase in funding the visual arts at all levels and across all sectors to ensure Artists are paid a fair wage with fair terms and conditions.

We call for the acceptance of an artist's professional practice in all aspects of the tax and benefits system, recognising the time and resources spent on the research, development and making of work. The union joins others in calling for a Citizens Basic Income as alongside the huge impacts it will have for those performing low and unpaid work in the social economy (parents, carers etc) it can provide massive support to artists, many of whom our surveys regularly show earn less than the living wage and as low as £5,000 per year from their work.

From 2017 show 83% earn less than £10k per year, 80% believe they will earn less the following year, 88% regularly don't receive a contract for paid work, 61% consistently receive less than the industry standard rates of pay, only 11% state regularly receiving the industry standard rate of pay and 75% seldom or never receive a fee for exhibitions.

In order to support the cultural workforce, the strategy needs to include a commitment to revision employment law and make the legislative change to protect freelance/precarious workers. Many working in the cultural sector and the majority of artists are freelance/precarious workers suffering all the disadvantages of self-employment with none of the advantages.

Most artists are self-employed. That means no rights, no benefits, no pension, no maternity cover, no protection. In many sectors, current legislation has been tested to breaking point by new relationships between employers and their workforce, and there is a clear need to review how employment status is defined to ensure workers are guaranteed the appropriate rights and protections. In order to support and nurture the cultural workforce, the government needs to acknowledge and address the problems and lack of clarity in this area and to make a commitment to legislative change.

“We pledge to take urgent action to create a visual arts sector that celebrates diversity and promotes equality of opportunity for all.’ Visual Arts Manifesto

Increased funding for libraries, galleries, and museums in local areas. Preserving and sharing our history, the history of the working class, of women, of minorities, of the marginalised and their contribution to our culture.

Drawing on the importance of feeling and emotion, impulses, feelings and desires that get processed through culture - recognising the importance and significance of everyday life and effective experience when we talk about culture.

The Scottish Artists Union join with our members in voicing our grave concerns over the negative impact of Brexit on the cultural sector and “We defend the right of art and artists to move freely across borders and defend the freedoms of our international peers and colleagues.” Visual Arts Manifesto


We submitted two examples of best practice, the MU/Swedish EPR Agreement http://earights.org/what-is-mu-swedish-epr/ and information about the system in Canada.

Regarding Canada, there are 5 particular areas that the Scottish Government could learn from, and implement change right away:

- Examine the “jury of peers” system in the Canada Council of the Arts. This system not only brings expert insights into the grant assessment process (which actually adds greater value to the award and a sense of pride that one has been picked by the very people one is seeking respect from) but it also gives the opportunity for jury duty and direct input from particular sectors of artists and creative professionals. This gives the opportunity too for involvement from people who are from marginalised strata in society, the opportunity for the Scottish government to live up to its desire for Equality & Diversity. Plus, if an artist has done jury duty, it also boosts their career, their credibility internationally as well as locally.

- The travel grant system of the Canada Council of the Arts. This system enables artists to travel to represent their work internationally. It is a rolling grant system and so long as you apply before you travel, you are eligible for retrospective grant funding to cover travel & accommodation. If an artist is invited to exhibit their work, present a screening, artists talk, present at a conference and undertake an artists residency.

- An in-depth look at the sustainable and flourishing Artists Run Centres in Canada, the way they developed and how they are structured and funded, is well overdue. We can take the best practice from the ARCs in Canada and tailor it for a workable system in Scotland.

- There needs to be an examination of the Status of the Artist Act (1992) legislation and if we can adopt a similar Act in Scotland under present devolved powers.

- Since 1975, “Canada became the first country to pay exhibition fees to artists, after successful lobbying by CARFAC. Based on CARFAC’s minimum copyright fee schedule, the Canada Council makes the payment of fees to living Canadian artists a requirement for eligibility for Program Assistance Grants to Public Art Galleries.”We need to take this further… Any grants from any level of Government and Councils in Scotland, or any publicly funded grant body should be enforcing exhibition fee payments & artists fees (see SAU suggested rates) as part of the eligibility for Program Assistance Grants for every single organisation seeking funding, including: festivals, galleries, artist-run centres, artist residencies, art clubs, sports clubs, community centres, charities, schools, higher education institutions, etc… It needs to be normalised that Artists Payment is properly budgeted for, especially if artworks and artists are the actual focus of the grant application.

The Scottish Artists Union will continue to work on behalf of its members and in the interests of all visual artists and makers living and working in Scotland, to ensure that their voices are heard, their professional practice is valued and their contribution to life and society is celebrated. We will recognise success when it is possible to earn a living wage from being an artist in Scotland.


The Scottish Artists Union strongly advocate that “we seek to work within a cultural environment that is collaborative rather than competitive, and resist the pressure of continual growth, a burden that expects us to do more with less.” Visual Arts Manifesto.

We note that unless its findings are listened to and acted upon they are meaningless. The Scottish Artists Union has seen before when programmes which made a positive impact to artists and the sector (such as the cultural co-ordinators programme) had their funding cut and the campaign to see fair work contracts and rates of pay adopted across the sector still has far to go as our Members' Survey highlights every year.

We look forward to seeing the contribution the Scottish Artists Union and other creative industry unions make to the culture of Scotland recognised and included to a greater extent so that being an artist in Scotland is a valued, rewarding and sustainable profession.


September 2018


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