What was the Artists Union?

Notes by Avis Saltsman -
Page Eight

Previous Page

Next Page

The Report of the 4th Annual Conference continued...


To avoid confusion and facilitate working, IR and DHSS issues were considered separately. An Advisory Sheet on tax information for artists is being prepared. During the year the tax situation changed (improved) due to an agreement reached between the I.R. and the Arts Council. This concerns awards against tax liability (Sept. I979.) In cases of persons employed as a Teacher because he is a working artist (as a job requirement), he should be able to claim some of his expenses against that income. Taxes paid according to the way you are employed and that is a contractual thing. In school you have contract, stamps, PAYE. But there are exceptional cases ie. Working for L.E.A. fulltime and paying schedule D. (As a possible test-case we could perhaps find a member willing to be put on schedule D.) It is of benefit to be on schedule D as opposed to schedule E. This has always worked to the advantage of Equity members and Musicians and is their tax advantage. Yet they can register at the Department of Employment. Much to the concern of Equity which is fighting the case, the IR is moving at this moment to close tax loopholes and move actors and musicians from schedule D to schedule E, where it possibly can (ie staff musicians, Singers in Resident Orchestras on permanent contracts.) In practice the rate of tax is discretionary, negotiable with one’s own tax inspector.

D.H.S.S. Present anomalies have roots in way the welfare state was set up. 15 different statutes, employment act, health act, etc. These provide guidelines which are applied by individual officers. It is thus open to change. For instance: in 1945 it was never envisaged that there would be a Professional Employment Register, or the slightest need for one.

Surprisingly, Equity have never negotiated directly with the dept. to obtain special status for members. Problems arising have always been settled in the courts, by case law.
This year Richard Batt, an artist working in Cardiff, was removed from the professional register after being on it for seven years. It was argued his skills had deteriorated after seven years....it was felt he would never obtain employment. AADW, with its own lawyer, attended the tribunal which returned a majority decision. (2 to 1. Verdict not unanimous therefore ground for appeal considered sound.) Further legal action would be expensive, the higher the case was fought. An appeal fund would be necessary. The Tribunal was disturbing in that a special case can be made ‘in special circumstances’ for almost anything. But the case that artists are by the nature of their work and lives special was made and the Tribunal by their verdict went some way to acknowledging this.

Since this case, the working party have been told the Professional Executive Register does have category artist - not commercial or display. Acceptance is "discretionary”...two "A” levels, evidence of exhibitions, membership of an artists organisation possibly. Category ref. no 16110K. The normal labour exchange has ten categories of artist:


"The painter would be placed in graphic artist category...0ne who makes art, studio artists, creates pictures, abstract designs, portrait painter, watercolourist.” We need to resolve employed/self employed dilemma. Who is our employer? We need to know.

How many artists are on the Dole/have been forced off the dole? Will someone sign on as a test case....if we can register as artist, available for work, do we therefore qualify as a consequence to be members of the T.U.C.?


Artists working outside the gallery system have basically three options 1) find ‘money work’ to subsidise your art 2) Get lucky with the Arts Council or your Regional Arts Association 3) find a friendly community which values your skills and will pay you for using them. The last of these sounds a bit like something from that Golden Age when artists were invaluable to the community, (or was it its rulers?) in giving significance to its past and vision to its future - usually of the ‘be good or it’s everlasting damnation’ kind. That’s the trouble; those who employ us usually have a vested interest. And anyway, the shift from labour-intensive to capital intensive production has marginalised us even in this, replacing the individual artists with increasingly centralised media networks - the ‘culture factories’ of monopoly capitalism. There are of course the odd tokens, various placements of artists in industry, in planning offices, Town Artists etc. But these are often cosmetic activities and you can bet that as soon as the artist gets close to significant expression which conflicts with the status quo, then its bye bye. However there are other possibilities. How about an arts committee open to anyone in the borough - anyone can stand for election - which has a substantial budget (increasing yearly by over 50% even in these hard times) for funding a wide range of cultural and arts activities. It is not controlled by anyone outside its elected body - either local authority, commercial interests or Arts Council etc - and is not afraid to fund work which challenges the status quo from time to time. Sounds like a dream? Well it’s not, it exists (which means it also has problems) and I am using it as a ‘model’, or at least a starting point, to determine possibilities for a realistic approach to funding artists in boroughs - one which is not based upon a crude functionalism or an ineffectual tokenism. I will elaborate at conference.

Peter Dunn Sept 1980

Previous Page

Next Page

Contact: Avis Saltsman (or Saltzmann), 17 Gerrard Road, Islington, London N1 8AY +44(0)20 7359 6294 or e-mail her
URL: http://www.art-science.com/Avis/au/au8.html
Last revised 14/10/2002 Copyright: Avis Saltsman 1998 - 2002