Letter to Fiona Hyslop MSP

Letter to Fiona Hyslop MSP


Coronavirus: Arts and Culture


22nd March

Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop
St Andrews House, Regent Road, Edinburgh, 
EH1 3DG 2020

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

The current Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic is having a catastrophic impact on Scottish Artist Union members. We have over 1500 artists and makers across Scotland who work in communities, schools and galleries contributing to vital community ecosystems and local infrastructures.

We know from our annual survey that our members already live a precarious financial existence - 81% of artist members are self-employed and 83% earn less than £10k per year. Despite a low income, somehow artists manage to continue working, contributing to the rich cultural life that Scotland is rightly proud of.

The current crisis is, however, proving overwhelming and some of our members are facing poverty. Independent workshops and schools workshops have been cancelled - commissioned work, projects and festival activity has been cancelled or postponed - open access workshop spaces and galleries are shutting their doors. These are all vital sources of income for our members and unfortunately may also be some of the last activities to be reinstated when the country begins to resume to normal work structures.

Many artist members rely on supporting employment, without long term contracts, in cafes, bars, retail and teaching - all these sources of income are also being seriously affected by Covid-19 and in many cases wages have immediately ceased. We are very concerned that social security systems currently in place are not sufficient to support cultural freelancers through this crisis.

In addition, many of our members have secondary rents to pay on studio spaces. When difficult decisions need to be made financially, many may need to give up their work spaces. This not only has a serious effect on the nature and scale of an artist’s future work capability, but also it will have a major effect on the current sustainabilty of independent studio and project spaces currently numbering over 100 across the country. Many of these spaces have taken many years to set up and to establish important regional creative communities - if lost they will not be easily replaced. Artists unable to pay rents in the larger managed studio and open access spaces may also have a serious effect on the ultimate sustainability of other core cultural organisations.

Our members have been contacting us to tell us of the impact:

‘We literally have £88 to last the rest of the month’.

‘I am fully self employed as an artist. Since last week all my current and future work was cancelled outright. I have immediately been left with no income other than working tax credits’

‘All my income from galleries and art classes has ceased...what can I say...worrying times’

On Friday the UK Government announced measures to support small businesses and cover 80% of salaried employees wages. Similar measures are not being put in place for the self-employed and freelancers. We are very concerned that social security systems currently in place are not sufficient to support cultural freelancers through this crisis.

We urgently call on the Scottish Government to put in place emergency measures which will directly support freelance artists, makers and sole traders during this unprecedented time.

I look forward to your response.

With regards,

Lynda Graham
President, Scottish Artists Union


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