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One of the most powerful things to emerge during the pandemic is the importance of the arts to our wellbeing. Gilane Tawadros says the visual arts – and artists in particular - can play a critical role in post-pandemic recovery.

Landskip, 2000 by Simon Patterson. Curated by Locus+, Compton Verney House.

Simon Patterson

Over the past 18 months, the arts have been a source of inspiration, respite and hope. From Belfast to Margate, Powys to Edinburgh, the cultural industries have shown how the arts can drive economic recovery, community cohesion and local enjoyment. You only have to look at the economic and regenerative impact on a city when it becomes a City of Culture to see the benefits brought by investment in the arts. 

According to a recent report - Rebuilding Europe - before the pandemic the visual arts had an annual turnover of £118 billion across Europe and grew by 14% between 2013 and 2019. This is the highest of any creative and cultural sector.

Visual artists support the reputation of Britain on the world stage as a major destination for tourism and education. And three of the world’s top ten arts universities are based in the UK, while museums and galleries support tourism to major cities and regions across the UK. Yet for UK artists to thrive, they need to be paid for their work. But how?

A Smart Fund could ensure future prosperity

One idea is the Smart Fund – a proposal for a collaboration between writers, artists, performers, technology manufacturers and government to generate investment for the cultural industries. A new Smart Fund report* by a coalition of arts organisations, including DACS, shows how the fund could raise between £250 and £300 million a year to better support the cultural industries, local communities and boost digital creativity skills across the country.

In this way, the Smart Fund provides an opportunity for government, creators, performers and tech companies to work in partnership with everyone playing their part in supporting and protecting the creative economy in the UK.  

The UK now has a unique opportunity to boost the economy, rebuild Britain and bring communities together while at the same time transforming the economic reality for visual artists. We need to come together to devise new ways of working across sectors to help sustain our cultural industries and provide the right conditions for artists to operate sustainably. 

Enhanced rights management for artists

The future of arts funding is collaborative. We can and should rebuild collectively, working together in the UK and across the world. The Smart Fund provides a direct way for tech companies to invest in, empower and enrich the cultural DNA of our communities and wider society. This is done by manufacturers of electronic devices contributing to creators’ earnings by paying a small percentage of each device sale into a fund.

These small payments would form a central fund that is paid directly to artists, writers, performers, and other creators through existing rights management organisations, like DACS, ALCS, BECS and Directors UK. Artists in the UK are losing out on payment when their works are stored and downloaded by an audience of millions.

By looking internationally, we can see there is a solution. Schemes like the Smart Fund exist and operate successfully in 44 countries worldwide, paying out over £930 million to creators and performers globally in 2018 alone, making up for lost income. Significantly, in countries that operate these schemes, mobile phones and other devices frequently cost less than in the UK where no such scheme operates.

Our wellbeing depends on it 

A proportion of the monies paid into the Fund would be also used to generate a digital culture and communities fund to support activities and programmes that bring communities across the UK together on an equal footing through cultural and creative schemes.

It is time to ask how we can collectively restore communities through cross-sector innovation. The Smart Fund provides a long-term solution to support creators and performers of all ages and backgrounds, and the communities in which they are based. 

In an industry hit hard by the pandemic, it is time to reflect on how the cultural industries can be sustained and provide prosperity for all through unique opportunities to collaborate across the government, technology companies and the cultural industries. Our economy and our wellbeing as a nation depend upon it. 

Gilane Tawadros is Chief Executive of DACS

 @DACSforArtists #thesmartfund

*The Smart Fund: Tech Enabling Creativity, September 2021

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