“The ability of art to inspire, to connect, to innovate and to bring people from different backgrounds and cultures together is becoming increasingly recognized at EU and Member States levels – not only because of the intrinsic value of culture but also because of its proven social and economic impacts. But does this recognition also extend to the artists and cultural and creative professionals who make this happen?”
The introduction of a new report on the status of artistic, cultural, and creative labor in the EU shows the “elephant in the room”. According to different studies in recent years, the creative sector of the economy is growing, but the people who serve it face precarious conditions.
A new report titled: ‘The status and working conditions of artists and cultural and creative professionals, conducted within the EU Open Method of Coordination (OMC) by a group of EU experts representing all 27 Member States, points to the weaknesses of the overall status of creative professionals in the Union and provides a set of recommendations.
The group worked cross-sectorally and included experts in the field of culture as well as experts in areas of employment and social and economic affairs -experts from all 27 Member States. The European Commission convened it in 2021–2023 and in 6 plenary meetings and many exchanges formulated a set to advance further policy learning and development.
In line with the mandate of the OMC group, the findings of the report and its recommendations focus on the following four key areas:
The report indicates that culture in the EU is primarily funded by national and European programs with project-based approaches. Though there are similarities, creative professionals and cultural workers face different conditions. Scandinavian countries offer full social security coverage, while in other countries artists have a special status. In contrast, countries like Greece, Hungary, and Malta lack a specific status.
Experts believe that a common European framework for artists’ working conditions could encourage Member States to adopt measures adapted to the specificities of artists, in particular the social protection schemes. An online sharing platform should also be set up, based on the data collected during the group’s work.
The Creatives Unite platform features stories and interviews with artists, culture, and creative professionals from various countries in the EU. The platform highlights the shared challenges they face and how mobility, cooperation, and integration can strengthen cultural, artistic, and creative production.Read
According to an OECD report issued in 2022, Cultural and creative employment accounts for approximately 1 in 20 jobs in some OECD and European Union (EU) countries. It is particularly important in cities and capital regions, where it can amount to up to 1 in 10 jobs.
Another study conducted by Ernst & Young for the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers titled: Rebuilding Europe – The Cultural and creative economy before and after COVID-19, estimated that in 2019 the CCIs represented 4.4% of EU GDP in terms of turnover, with annual revenues of €643 billion and a total added value of €253 billion. That is equal to or higher than the national GDPs of some member states.
According to the same report, the CCIs were growing faster (+2.6% per year since 2013) than the EU average (+2%). And still, according to the latest report, the cultural and creative industries professionals face precarious conditions and lower levels of income.
Artists and cultural professionals often struggle with irregular contracts, which affect their financial stability and access to benefits.
“It is clear that in most countries artists and creative sector professionals rely on short projects and too often have to work on two jobs or more to maintain a decent standard of living,” says Joost Heinsius, participating expert for the Dutch Labour Platform for the Cultural and Creative Future.
“They receive a lower income compared to professionals from the same educational level but in different fields” he adds. One indication of the above comes with this Eurostat chart showing that creative workers tend to work more on a freelance basis, than other workers.
The findings suggest that while there are common patterns across the EU, such as project-based cultural markets funded by national and European programs, there are also vast differences.
According to Eurostat, the proportion of self-employed cultural workers is significantly higher (32%) than in employment in the economy as a whole (14%), and this difference has remained almost stable over many years.
The level of social protection varies widely across Europe, with some countries offering more comprehensive coverage than others. The lack of social protection for many artists and creative professionals is a major concern.
"Artists and creative professionals often face irregular income, job insecurity, and the need for continuous training and adaptation. Conditions vary across the continent, with some countries offering more support and stability for artists and creative professionals than others," says Joost Heinsius.
Some countries, such as France, Italy, Latvia, and Germany, have specific social security schemes for artists, ranging from unemployment benefits to health insurance and basic pensions, while others, such as Hungary, Malta, and Greece, seem to have no provisions at all, but are planning to introduce measures.
From the full social security coverage provided by the Scandinavian countries to the recognition of the status of the artist and the special group of Ukrainian artists in residence throughout Europe to the lack of a special status for artists with specific provisions and guarantees in Greece, Hungary, and Malta, as described by UNESCO, experts seem to agree that a common European framework will help national industries to mature and grow in an increasingly competitive international environment.
The group of experts suggests the setting up of an EU framework for artists and creative professionals' working conditions, to encourage Member States to adopt measures adapted to the specificities of artists, providing guidelines and minimum standards via a Council Recommendation or Council Conclusions for non-binding measures which cover all relevant areas for improving working conditions in the CCS.
In line with the 2021 European Parliament resolution on the situation of artists and cultural recovery in the EU, the group of experts recommends that Member States ensure full access to social protection for artists and cultural workers regardless of their labor regimes.
According to the report, the current status of artists and creative professionals among the 27 states varies significantly, as shown in the graph:
While freedom of artistic expression is guaranteed in most EU countries, the artistic and cultural sector has faced numerous challenges in recent years, including the impact of digitalization, changing audience preferences, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While digital technologies have opened up new opportunities for creation, distribution, and engagement, they have also led to a "winner-takes-all" market structure where a small number of successful artists and works capture a large share of revenues.
“The 27 experts agree that more should be done to guarantee fair practices at both the national and European levels. On the level of digital technology it is clear that platforms are stronger than creators and create value chains they control, while the creators hardly get remunerated” explains Joost Heinsius.
In response to these findings, the report calls on Member States to proceed to the recognition of the status of the artist, as described by UNESCO -bridging what seems to be another east vs west divide- promoting fair remuneration, and fair practices while fostering diversity through regulating cultural production.
In many countries, the protection afforded to various industries can vary significantly. According to Joost Heinsius, the visual arts industry in Europe is less organized and generates less income compared to the design and music industries.
this is due in part to the rich cultural diversity of European countries, which often prioritize the production of art and culture at the national level. However, this can leave creative professionals in smaller markets vulnerable to financial instability and uncertainty.
To address this issue, Heinsius advocates for the establishment of a European framework with standards that can regulate cultural production and ensure fair practices at both the national and European levels.
“A european framework creates european standards and that helps regulate cultural production and fair practice both on the european level and at the national level” says Joost Heinsius.
For a long time, those in the cultural and creative sector (CCS) EU-wide and beyond, have been calling for a fair and decent work environment. One of the initiatives that has been introduced by the EU to fund collaborative projects, Creative Europe, has been instrumental in supporting the industry and providing it with much-needed stimulus.
"Cultural and Creative Production standards help improve mobility that is important for Europe” he adds. The good news is that all representatives of the 27 countries agree that the framework described in their report is a minimum necessary way forward.
The Creatives Unite will present a series of stories and interviews with artists, culture and creative professionals who live and work in different countries in the EU reflecting the common challenges they face. They also reveal how mobility, cooperation and integration can foster stronger and more relevant cultural, artistic and creative production today.
Photo credit: Christos Symeonidis, courtesy of the Support Art workers network