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Artists do not stop: report raises major concerns about cultural freelancers

10 November 2021

The Council for Culture (Raad voor Cultuur) has "major concerns" about the position of 'cultural freelancers': self-employed people who work with amateurs in, for example, a choir or a theatre group. The Council has said this in response to new research into the financial position of this group, which was carried out by researchers from the Universities of Maastricht and Groningen (for UG: Johan Kolsteeg, Marijn Nagel, and Nathalie Schram). Cultural freelancers have a low and unstable income and are often involuntarily self-employed.

The study 'Artists do not stop...' shows that 57% of cultural freelancers had an annual gross income of less than 20,000 euros in 2020. In 2019 that percentage was 45%. For context: an average income in 2020 amounted to 36,000 euros.

"The work of art professionals is of great value to society," the researchers write. "At the same time, the profesional reality of art professionals, mostly self-employed, is vulnerable." The research was carried out by the Universities of Maastricht and Groningen on behalf of the National Knowledge Institute for Cultural Education and Amateur Art (Landelijk Kennisinstituut Cultuureducatie en Amateurkunst, LKCA), the House for the Arts Limburg (Huis voor de Kunsten Limburg), Foundation Art & Culture Drenthe (Stichting Kunst & Cultuur Drenthe) and the Boekman Foundation (Boekmanstichting).

Involuntarily self-employed

Almost half of cultural freelancers have no money for disability insurance or a pension fund. Many freelancers also do not want to be self-employed. That used to be different. Until the last economic crisis, many of them were employed. After many municipalities made major budget cuts on music schools and centres for the arts, art teachers were fired only to be asked to perform the same work as freelancers.

"The situation these freelancers find themselves in was already urgent, and this study underlines it again," says Sanne Scholten, director of the LKCA. "You could say: that's your problem. But they are an important part of the informal cultural infrastructure, which is under pressure. So it is bad for these professionals, but also a societal problem. If they no longer want to do the work we will not be able to do what we want to do: go to singing or piano lessons, or the theatre group."

Solutions

In their report, the researchers suggest ways to reinforce the position of independent cultural professionals: “Governments must be more aware of the social value of cultural participation (especially now, when we are struggling to emerge from a major crisis). Adjustment of legal frameworks is needed to better protect the self-employed in line with new (European) policies on freelancing. Provincial (or intermediate) cultural organizations can play an important role in this. Professionals ought to unite to create bargaining power towards clients.”

As early as April of this year, the Council for Culture asked then informateur ( def. ) Tjeenk Willink to allocate 100 million euros on a structural basis for "fair payments in the entire culture and heritage sector." The position of cultural freelancers also deserves special attention in the follow-up to the Borstlap Commission, which investigated the reform of the labour market in 2020. For solutions, the Council is "eagerly looking forward" to the outcome of the cabinet formation.

Last modified:10 November 2021 2.36 p.m.

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