Artists’ Union England

We aim to represent artists at strategic decision-making levels and positively influence the role artists play within society.

We aim to challenge the economic inequalities in the art world and to negotiate fair pay and better working conditions for artists.

We aim to work with other unions, arts organisations, government bodies and cultural institutions whilst remaining both independent and transparent.

We aim towards consensus decision-making, an active grass roots membership and involvement over a wide geographical spread.

The precarious economic situation of artists in Berlin

by Eva May, Gitte Bohr / art space Berlin

BBK, the union of artists in Berlin, has made a survey of the economic conditions of artists living in Berlin. (Studio Berlin II – Eine Untersuchung des Instituts für Strategieentwicklung über Berlin als Produktionsstandort für Gegenwartskunst). The city offers many opportunities for exhibition and activity for artists, but only very little that actually help them survive materially. The survey shows, for example, that the average income of artists in Berlin is not even half of the normal income of employees, 70% live on less than 12.000 euro per year. Many have to rely on support from parents, partners or social welfare. Only about 10% of artists can live on selling art, and only one fourth have a gallery.

Mostly artists receive no fees for exhibiting in galleries, institutions, etc. This is a global problem: only in England are fees secured for artists exhibiting in public institutions, which incidentally was the result of collective activism by artists in the 1970’s.
This precariasation does not only affect artists. All those working in the so-called creative professions are affected by badly paid jobs, or the increasing use of internships as replacement for real jobs, or jobs made into freelance positions.

These are not problems that are unique for art workers living in Berlin, it is a global question, but in Berlin it becomes extra ironic because the city has branded itself as a city of creativity, but has hardly made any effort to better the living conditions of those creatives it prides itself of. In relation to the number of artists and institutions, there is very little money spent on support for them. The crucial question of low rents for living and working is also hardly addressed by the city. In the survey, 65 % of the artists stated they would leave Berlin should the rents be raised a lot.
In this context, the symbolic capital of creativity is actually more a means to an end (real capital) than an end in itself. That is, as you are talking about, art is appropriated as a kind of brand, in order to get an economic gain, such as gentrification or tourism.