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The Creative Industries Sector Vision unveiled last month had one glaring omission – visual artists. Christian Zimmermann thinks it’s time to recognise their contribution.

Image of artist Francis Bowyer working in his studio
Francis Bowyer in studio

Anne Purkiss/DACS

In the vibrant panorama of the UK's cultural life, it is disheartening to see one cohort in the sector perpetually overlooked: visual artists. Last month, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport unveiled a promising Creative Industries Sector Vision (CISV). 

The report celebrated the economic vitality of the creative industries sector and its profound economic and societal impact. Yet, conspicuously absent from the plan were visual artists, the contributors who bring to life our shared cultural narrative and human histories.

As the House of Lords debated our creative future last Friday (07 July), I felt compelled to speak up: to recognise and value visual artists as the backbone of our public museums, galleries and the UK’s thriving art market. 

Artists inject colour and meaning and encourage understanding and reflection into our public and private spaces, yet their value and impact remain insufficiently acknowledged in official policy. This glaring omission from the CISV paints a troubling picture, and DACS, The Design and Artist Copyright Society, fervently believes we need to do more to recognise and reward visual creators.

Inequality proliferates

Despite the UK's art market ranking second globally and adding £9.5bn annually to our economy, visual artists remain some of the lowest paid in the creative sector. The median earnings for a visual artist? A mere £12,500. 

This poor economic outlook has driven 34% of the visual arts workforce to consider abandoning their profession. If this becomes a reality, such a talent drain will leave our cultural landscape significantly poorer.

We need to ensure that UK visual artists are recognised and valued on a par with other cultural sector workers.

This predicament is further complicated by our dependence on freelance labour. In the visual arts, over 70% of workers are freelancers, a figure that dwarfs the national average of 16%. Yet, current funding models fall drastically short in supporting these independent creatives. 

Consequently, inequality of opportunity proliferates, with creative careers increasingly a luxury only affordable to those willing to gamble on insecure, low-paid projects. Moreover, visual artists, like many creators, depend on a robust intellectual property framework to earn a living. As technology advances, we must ensure artists can retain their copyright and receive fair compensation for their work. 

Vital part of the cultural landscape

As discussions on the CISV progress, we need to ensure that UK visual artists are recognised and valued on a par with other cultural sector workers. 

This means collectively seeking strong representation from visual artists in the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Culture and Creative Industries. It also requires more visual artist focused initiatives that drive growth, build talent and develop skills - similar to the Music Export Growth Scheme and Grassroot Music Schemes.

Additionally, the UK should ensure the inclusion of visual arts education in the Cultural Education Plan to nourish the talent pipeline and help diversify who has the opportunity to become an artist. 

Alongside this, we should increase access to creative tech skills for visual artists to maximise their creative potential, encouraging the tech industry to work with the visual arts sector and artists to ensure everyone can prosper as tech advances. 

Finally, the UK must ensure an Intellectual Property framework that assures visual artists of fair pay and consent when their works are used, stored, or shared in the UK and in overseas markets.

As we celebrate the economic success of our creative industries, let's not forget the visual artists who have long played a vital part in enhancing and cementing our cultural landscape and economy. It's high time we reciprocate and play ours.

Christian Zimmermann, CEO, DACS, The Design and Artist Copyright Society. 

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