– Building on Proud Traditions

Excellent co-operation between artists’ associations and united support from the centrist parties and the opposition proved decisive in winning Norwegian artists a 10% pay rise, says NBK chairwoman Hilde Tørdal.

Recipient of the Norwegian working grant for younger emerging artists in 2015: Tonje Bøe Birkeland. Here: Plate # 2 Astrups Horn, 2015, which is shown at Stipendutstillingen 2015 (The 2015 Grant Show) at the website of Norske Billedkunstnere (NBK – Norwegian Visual Artists’ Association), which shows works by 141 artists who have received various grants.
Recipient of the Norwegian working grant for younger emerging artists in 2015: Tonje Bøe Birkeland. Here: Plate # 2 Astrups Horn, 2015, which is shown at Stipendutstillingen 2015 (The 2015 Grant Show) at the website of Norske Billedkunstnere, which shows works by 141 artists who have received various grants.

Norwegian artists get a pay rise in 2016: an almost ten per cent increase in the rates set for working grants and guaranteed incomes. This increase is part of a three-year salary reform and will affect the slightly more than thousand artists who will receive such subsidies in 2016.

Chairwoman of Norske Billedkunstnere (NBK – Norwegian Visual Artists’ Association), Hilde Tørdal, says to Kunstkritikk that she is very relieved and greatly pleased that the proposal has finally been officially adopted.

– It feels right, fair and very well deserved for those artists who are skilled and talented enough to pass through the needle’s eye and qualify for grants. The rates given so far have been far too low; they haven’t matched the level of artistic excellence expected from applicants. A salary reform was well overdue in order to improve the artists’ finances, says Tørdal to Kunstkritikk.

The pay rise for artists was announced as part of the final Norwegian Budget for 2016, which was presented on 23 November. The government parties Høyre and FrP, supported by Venstre and KrF, negotiated this new agreement, which means that the rates for working grants and guaranteed incomes go up from NOK 210 000 to NOK 230 000 per year.

Hilde Tørdal, chairwoman of Norske Billedkunstnere.
Hilde Tørdal, chairwoman of Norske Billedkunstnere.

With this move, the artists’ associations Norske Billedkunstnere, Norske Kunsthåndverkere, Forbundet Frie Fotografer and Samisk Kunstnerforbund have won approval for their joint proposal for the Budget: in the spring of 2015 they proposed a salary reform for artists which aims to have all working grants and guaranteed income schemes reach 50% of a standard full-time employment salary within the next three years.

– We see this as the beginning of a three-year process. The politicians have accepted the principles behind the initiative, but we cannot be certain that the adjustments will continue in next year’s budget. We still have a lot of work to do here, and perhaps our endeavours should be aimed particularly at Høyre, so that the party does not yet again use grant policies as a lever in negotiations with Venstre and Kristelig Folkeparti. Having seen such clear results in the 2013 Artists’ Survey (Kunstnerundersøkelsen) it would be strange if the politicians did not assign high priority to this field, particularly given that the request is so modest and has an incremental three-year horizon.

You mentioned the 2013 Artists’ Survey, which demonstrated that the vast majority of artists, including visual artists, have experienced a drop in income generated by their artistic work during a period that was otherwise characterised by the red-green government’s expansive cultural policies. You describe the pay rise in this year’s budget as “historic” in a press release. Can you say something about the historic backdrop to all this?

Recipient of the government grant for established artists, 10 years: Per Christian Brown. Here: Den drømmende flammen, film still, from Stipendutstillingen 2015.
Recipient of the government grant for established artists, 10 years: Per Christian Brown. Here: Den drømmende flammen, film still, from Stipendutstillingen 2015.

– This should all be seen against the backdrop of several decades where many governments have used grants for artists as a balancing item in the budget. In 1963 an artist’s grant corresponded to 82.1 % of the standard annual income for full-time employees in Norway, but in 2014 the corresponding figure was 40.1%. This represents a dramatic cut in the real value of the grants, and this is the reason why we wish to establish a new base rate and new principles for salary increases in order to prevent such downturns in future.

What factors do you believe were decisive for your success in bringing this increase about?

– I believe that the collaborative work done by the visual artists’ associations to prepare our joint proposal for the budget formed the basis for the reform. In this regard I should like to particularly acknowledge the efforts made by Lise Stang Lund, chairwoman of Norske Kunsthåndverkere, and Katinka Maraz, chairwoman of Forbundet Frie Fotografer.

We have enjoyed a very fruitful climate for rallying around joint art policy demands, as well as excellent communication between all the artists’ organisations in our network. I believe that having the backing of all 19 artists’ associations this autumn gave us the clout that decided the matter. But of course there are plenty of factors at work, and we have also seen that we were entirely dependent on the support of individual politicians in parliament who were willing to put our case at the top of their list when negotiating. It was also very helpful that the opposition parties agreed that the artists’ grants should be raised and that we should build on the proud tradition that the artists’ grants represents.

Do you have a message for artists in other countries where there are no grant schemes, or where grants are being cut?

Recipient of the government working grand for younger emerging artists in 2015: Apichaya Wanthiang. Here: Without Waiting for her Reply, 2014, from Stipendutstillingen 2015.
Recipient of the government working grand for younger emerging artists in 2015: Apichaya Wanthiang. Here: Without Waiting for her Reply, 2014, from Stipendutstillingen 2015.

– Join forces – join an artists’ association! Solidary and joint action still works, and we see that individual artists struggle to make their demands heard if they act alone. This victory is an excellent example of the power of joint action. I recently attended the general assembly of International Association of Art for artists’ associations worldwide, and shortly afterwards I was at a major conference in Vilnius, Lithuania where art policy issues were addressed. Of course we are privileged in Norway, but being an artist in Norway is expensive, too. It is also important that artists’ associations meet and inspire each other, exchanging ideas and strategies for improving conditions for artists, promoting freedom of speech, and safeguarding rights.

– Most are struggling with the same issues, and good solutions from one country should be adopted and spread to more. Norway can learn much from other countries, too – such as Germany, where they have developed some excellent pension schemes. Artists’ associations for visual artists are seeking to set up an international conference next autumn to address exhibition finances and the efforts done in many countries in terms of agreements and contracts. Many countries work with these issues, launching campaigns such as “paying artists”, so what we need to do is to gather as many forces behind these movements as we can in order to strengthen our position and hone our arguments, status reports, figures and specific solutions in agreements and contracts. If other countries adopt poor policies for artists, this will eventually also have an impact on artists’ conditions and the evolution of art in Norway. We need to stand united – it pays off, says Tørdal to Kunstkritikk.

Leserinnlegg