Publication: March 2021
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Authors: Dr Mafalda DÂMASO
Culture Action Europe: Tere BADIA, Gabriele ROSANA, Kornelia KISS, Sebastiano BERTAGNI, Maya WEISINGER

Executive summary
Key findings:
  • The coexistence across Europe of multiple definitions of ‘artists’ as well as competing frameworks specifically aimed at them hinders a unified recognition of artists’ labour status.
  • COVID-19 accelerated pre-existing trends and inequities, which created a sense of urgency to tackle the situation on a European level.
  • Several factors explain the precariousness of artists. These include: the non-standard nature of their working conditions, status and income, and artists’ propensity for cross-border mobility.
  • Recent and ongoing European initiatives (e.g. collective bargaining agreements) are likely to have a positive impact on the working conditions of artists. However, the former intersect with many other policy fields, e.g. competition, the internal market, social policy, fundamental rights. Therefore, such European initiatives are insufficient to address all challenges faced by artists.
  • A European framework for working conditions in cultural and creative sectors and industries would provide a multidimensional, holistic and coherent policy instrument, helping to establish minimum standards, addressing structural fragilities and inequities. The framework would contribute to the sustainability of the cultural and creative sectors and industries after COVID-19, together with immediate forms of actions (access to funding, administrative support, etc.).

Culture is at the basis of the European project: it brings our societies together and shapes their common future. Therefore, it carries an important intrinsic value. It also contributes significantly to the economy, with 4.2% of the EU GDP and 7.4 million jobs created. As others have put it, “the cultural and creative economy is now a European heavyweight”.

However, the sector faces an uncertain future. COVID-19 accelerated pre-existing trends, including precariousness and inequity. Facing destitution, many professionals may leave the sector and thousands of institutions may close. With them, accumulated knowledge and skills would be permanently lost, and the cultural and creative ecosystem would be profoundly weakened. A solution to tackle this challenge includes strengthening the status of artists and cultural workers and, with it, the resilience of the sector.

The 1980 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist asks Member States to improve artists’ professional, social and economic status through policies and measures “related to training, social security, employment, income and tax conditions, mobility and freedom of expression.”

In 2018, the Commission’s New European Agenda for Culture acknowledged the social and economic impact of culture. More recently, in September 2020, the European Parliament adopted the Resolution on Cultural Recovery of Europe, setting a vision for European institutions and Member States to address the recovery of the cultural and creative sectors (CCS), and recognising the importance of culture as a driver in Europe’s recovery post-pandemic. The Resolution also foregrounded the need to improve the working conditions of cultural and creative workers, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and proposed the creation of a European framework for working conditions in the cultural and creative sectors and industries.

Artistic and cultural work is characterized by intermittence, heterogeneity and instability that is much more pronounced than in other sectors. Also, it is often not fairly paid or sufficiently protected as in other sectors.

Several factors explain the precariousness of artists: artists and cultural workers have atypical work patterns. These include the non-standard nature of their working conditions, status and income, the unpredictability of the end product of artistic work and of its reception, the fact that artistic creation is both time- and labour-intensive, business models driven by artistic excellence and other societal values rather than market goals5, and propensity for cross-border mobility (which includes atypical situations that aren’t easily translated into pre-existing categories associated with visas, social protection or taxation).

Artists and cultural workers are more likely to work part-time, not to have an open-ended contract, and to combine employment and self-employment in several countries throughout their careers, and in other sectors (services, education, etc). Self-employment is higher in the cultural and creative sectors (33%) than in employment for the total economy (14%).

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the difficult financial situation faced by many artists and cultural creators. According to a recent report written by Ernst & Young revenues in the cultural and creative sectors plunged by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. The sectors were hit even harder than tourism, which lost 27% of its income. In 2020, the cultural sector lost approximately €200 billion in revenues. However, the economic impact of halting production will only be evident from 2021. In light of the above, targeted measures to tackle these issues in a coordinated and coherent fashion10 are needed.

The present background analysis aims to:

a) provide an overview of key characteristics of working conditions and career paths of artists and cultural workers, as well as artists’ various status across Europe, focusing mainly on the most discussed aspects in recent times;

b) summarise key points being discussed regarding artists’ and cultural workers’ specific status across Europe in light of the European Union’s competences and provide justification of specific policy solutions as compared to other precarious sectors;

c) provide a mapping of key elements regarding a possible European framework for working conditions in the cultural and creative sectors and industries.

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