You will have recently received notification that the membership fee is due to increase from £31 per year to £60 per year. Here is why:
The membership fee has remained fixed since the inception of the union in 2001. According to inflation rate history, £35 in 2001 is the equivalent of £54.25 today. As a result of inflation, artists have gradually been paying less for their membership, benefits and services over the past 16 years and this has come to a point that is no longer sustainable for the union.
Comparably, we still have one of the lowest membership fees of any other cultural union in Scotland - Equity (for professional performers and creative practitioners) membership starts from £125 pa, the Musicans Union at £213 pa and BECTU (UK Media & Entertainment Union) membership starts at £10 per month.
The decision to increase the membership fee to £60 pa was a tough one and was voted by a members’ majority at the AGM in 2016. We fully understand that this comes at a time of rising studio rent, rising materials costs, limited funding opportunities, dwindling opportunities for paid work and many other increases to the cost of living – a dire time when earnings are not rising at nearly the same rate as living costs. We know this issue to be felt acutely by artists.
Since it was established in 2001, the artists’ union has been run by a changing voluntary Executive Committee, all of which are members who have a full-time art practice and also undertake a myriad of other jobs in the arts. As the union membership has steadily grown over the years, this voluntary resource has become more and more limited in being able to provide the time, support, management, and representation needed to direct a trade union of this size and scope. The union is at a critical stage in its development and it is crucial that it generates enough income to directly support the running of a rapidly growing union, pay for insurance for the entire membership base, pay for other benefits and services, employ a staff team, and to manage and administrate its work. The membership fee increase is essential if the union is to continue to exist. As a union representing artists, it is vital that we remain independent and it is of ideological importance that we are not funded by any other source.
You will see a lot more for your money.
From April 2018, in addition to the existing offer of free Public Liability Insurance and subsidised Contents Insurance, we are introducing a new additional offer of FREE Public Indemnity Insurance.
FREE workshops, courses, training, study programmes, networking opportunities and other learning events across Scotland.
NEW website with a members’ zone of downloadable resources, articles, toolkits, and advice available only to members and produced by industry professionals.
ACCESS to an expert knowledge base around artists’ issues such as tax, finance, legal rights, studio rights, payment guidelines, challenging discrimination, equality in the workplace and much more.
However this increase is not solely about providing more benefits and services, it will also enable the organisational framework of the union to change for the better. As the day to day running of the union has been passed over to its staff, the Executive Committee are now able to devote more time lobbying on your behalf, to take forward campaigns and to help improve pay and conditions for artists; working to affect real change in the sector. This work will be further strengthened by working alongside our other cultural trade union colleagues in Scotland and the wider UK.
So… why should I be a member of the artists’ union when other membership groups also offer free public liability insurance? Why do I need to be a member of a union at all? What can it do for me?
A trade union is a legally-recognised, fully democratic structure of collective workers within an industry or sector that act together to gain better rights and working conditions for its members. A union can represent you and your interests at work, negotiate agreements on your behalf, negotiate and promote fair pay and good practice in a way that other membership bodies cannot. The Scottish Artists’ Union is the only democratic body in Scotland that can represent, advise, lobby, campaign and negotiate on behalf of artists with their employers, commissioners, clients, customers, publics, or with public bodies such as local councils, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. Artists are a very unique workforce, the vast majority (84% of our members) are self-employed and working without an employer can make for a more precarious workforce. The art sector is highly exploitative and distorted leaving artists vulnerable to exploitation, unfair treatment, poor working conditions, and little or no representation or support.
The sustained growth in our membership over the years means that are now being taken much more seriously as a collective voice representing artists in Scotland. Data and narrative collected from our annual members’ survey is quoted by Creative Scotland and many others within the sector. We have presence and a strong voice at Holyrood, being heard at the highest strategic and decision-making levels at the cross-party group on culture. By being a member of the union you are an integral part of this chorus and are actively participating in shaping a more sustainable art sector in Scotland for everyone. The more members the union has, the more power it gains to negotiate for better pay rates and improved working conditions. In turn, the more sustainable and healthy the sector becomes, the more artists will be supported to thrive and to focus on making their contribution to culture. We want to give artists more space to create instead of agonising about how they are going to survive or turning their back on the profession altogether. By setting well researched payment guidelines (informed by industry standards) we can make sure that galleries, museums, local authorities and other organisations are informed, can set budgets accordingly and implement the best practice in paying artists.
By being a member of the union you not only show your support for change but also become part of an active democratic body led by artists for artists to create a better, more equal, more ethical, fairer and more vibrant, sustainable art sector. We sincerely hope that this increase will not deter you from renewing your membership. The union is its members! Talk to us, meet your Executive Committee, join the Executive Committee, tell us what you think, tell us what you need, tell us what needs to change, come to meetings, attend our events, contribute to campaigns. We are a democracy and invite all artists in Scotland to join and take part in this active grass roots movement that will instil and inspire real change.
Your Executive Committee
Image credit: 'Optimum-o Pie', workshop by P-O-O-L for the artists' union event 'Keep on, keepin' on' 30 Sept 2017