Scottish artist Jenny Lupton details the difficulties she finds trying to sustain a living through her art and passion, and how a Basic Income would help.
I returned to Scotland last year after living in France for 13 years. I was previously a successful portrait artist, but living abroad made that unworkable, so with a small amount of savings to see me through I hoped to resurrect my career.
I was panicked to find there was no help available to me whatsoever. I couldn’t sign on as unemployed as I was trying to establish a business. To get any income support, I had to show outgoings and income, and of course I had nothing to show, as I had no income. Also, being an artist, I’m rubbish at paperwork and finance. I needed dental work done, and I had to pay for the majority of that. I very luckily didn’t have to pay rent, as I got space in a family member’s property.
Back when I set my business up in 1990, there was a scheme called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme which gave me a small regular income for a year. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it allowed me to work on my art, to establish myself, and still have some money for bills and put food on the table. I genuinely thought that there would still be some form of similar support, but there is nothing out there. This is where a Basic Income would have allowed me to survive without the huge amounts of stress that I faced over the last year.
I’ve sold my soul a bit and worked very hard, and I’m set up again and surviving. But work is erratic, especially at this time of year. Like most artists, keeping my head above water is always a worry, and without a known regular income, it’s impossible to budget.
In February, the Scottish Artists’ Union put out a call to any members interested in being part of Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland’s evening discussing thoughts on how a Basic Income would impact on their lives as artists. I knew very little about the concept, so I did some research and felt my recent situation would be relevant, so I agreed to do a live Q&A with Gordon Dickson, the Finance & Projects Manager of the Union.
The discussion was a really positive explanation of how the Basic Income would work and which countries it had already been road tested in. I was surprised that I hadn’t ever heard about it before, although having lived abroad for the last decade or so probably contributed to that.
A Basic Income, I have since decided, would be an amazing help for artists like me – it would take the stress out of worrying how to survive when the work is quiet. I work on commission, so I am always secure in knowing that I get paid for each piece I do. For artists dependent on exhibition sales, it must be even harder. Stress and worry cause huge mental health issues, not least depression, and there is a general perception amongst non-artists that what we do isn’t a ‘real’ job anyway! If every single person received this money, there would be more successful artists out there and we could value ourselves better, instead of having to take on part-time work to support our real work.
I am hugely positive about Basic Income. I think the general mood of the country would improve, with Basic Income lifting people out of the current poverty levels to an acceptable living income.