During TUC week this September, The Morning Star published this article by AUE exec member Angela Kennedy:
‘The Artists Union England (AUE) Motion to the TUC Congress 2017 asks TUC affiliates and members to spend 1% of building or refurbishment budgets on art. This is not a new idea. The ‘Percent for Art’ is an established scheme in USA and Europe, endorsed by local and national public bodies. The UK does not have a ‘percent for art’ scheme – although some regional and municipal bodies have developed something similar. Such schemes have been eroded over time due to budgets cuts. Compounding this is a culture of artists working for free and not being aware or organised, who are not challenging this culture and not speaking out and insisting on being paid for the artwork that they produce.
AUE is a brand new and developing Trade Union for visual, applied and socially engaged artists. This motion is an opportunity to show that AUE is part of the trade union family, a family that backs a growing trade union and values the contribution of its members and is prepared to support it.
The motion is part of a series of efforts by this volunteer led union to help raise awareness about the endemic exploitation of artists across the arts industry. Most of the visual arts sector is completely unregulated, and relies upon artists doing a variety of arts paid work to make ends meet. A core goal of the AUE is raising awareness with the public that art – like all other cultural work – requires labour that has a value like any other and therefore should be paid.
AUE was instigated in 2012 by three women artists who were fed up of the exploitation in the arts industry and not having independent or democratic representation, and set about finding out how to set up a trade union from scratch. This is the first-time visual artists have the opportunity to be represented at their places of work, where they do not have to be in the vulnerable position of always having to represent themselves when negotiating their pay and conditions.
With fantastic encouragement, information and support from Northern TUC, GFTU, the SAU (Scottish Artists Union), as well as Bectu, Equity, Musicians’ Union and UCU, we now have nearly 300 members. We managed to raise over £4,500 pounds towards our Certificate of Independence, which we gained in 2016 and with that affiliation to TUC and GfTU. One of our first actions was to create a ‘Recommended Rates of Pay’ document. We now have free legal advice from Morrish solicitors for our members, as well as running campaigns on, for example, mental health and wellbeing, artists’ pay in competitions. We also work with public funded arts organisations on how they pay artists, and we are developing an insurance package for members. Our website details our activities: artistsunionengland.org.uk
We are just at the beginning of a long road to develop our membership, but with your help and support and campaigns to get better and fairer pay for our members, we are looking forward to the end of exploitation through awareness that artists need to be paid for the work they do and at a fair and regulated rate.’