Retort#22 If the Fair Practice Code Is the Answer, Would You Please Repeat the Question?

The Fair Practice Code is being embraced by governments and funds! Fantastic! Finally, fair pay for artists. At least, that was my expectation, but I feel that there are still important steps that need to be taken to achieve a fair art sector and that we need remain critical about the way in which the code is implemented.


From my position as treasurer of the artist association iii in The Hague – which offers artists a podium and supports production, research, and presentation – I know that implementing the code isn’t easy, because the code itself is relatively open and because there aren’t any guidelines and collective labour agreements for all art disciplines and contexts. Early December, iii submitted a subsidy application to the municipality of The Hague for structural funding for the next four years. The Fair Practice Code is a compulsory component of the application, as is now the case for many municipalities, funds, and also the ministry. Precisely these criteria for subsidy applications make clear how governments will realise fair practice, and I’ve noticed the different interpretations the code has received, and which parts have not yet been implemented.


Questions of accountability

This is the first time in The Hague’s Kunstenplan (Plan for the Arts) that the enforcement of the Fair Practice Code is a criterion for institutions applying for the coming four years, just like all other multiyear applications in the Netherlands. It’s a reason to be optimistic, especially for a bottom-up organisation like iii, which was founded in 2013 as a way for artists to stand together and receive decent pay for their work. We are attempting to receive, for the first time, a multiyear, structural subsidy for the coming period (2021-24) in order to reinforce our position. That is why as treasurer I spent hours crunching the numbers to answer the questions under the heading ‘Fair Practice Code’ properly and calculate the additional costs of the code for our organisation.

For this calculation, the municipality provides a form with questions and tables.[i] The questions are about collective labour agreements, guidelines, FTEs, (unpaid) overtime, and structural work by volunteers and interns, and about the consequences and measures for implementing fair pay. In the tables, the additional costs (1. the difference between the wages paid in 2018 and the norm in 2021, and 2. the difference between the paid hours and the unpaid hours worked) can be calculated for employees with a permanent or temporary contract or zzp’ers (self-employed persons without employees).

There is no explanation that clarifies whether zzp’ers also include artists, or whether this group consists only of curators, technicians, cleaners, and bookkeepers. As most artists are in fact zzp’ers, it would be logical for them to be counted as zzp’ers. But an open question about artists’ fees specifically highlights artists and creates confusion. This question is about whether the payment that iii offers artists is derived from a guideline or not, and thus isn’t about additional costs. So shouldn’t additional costs for paying artists be mapped out? This is where it starts to get tricky. The call for fair practice came from the fact that artists’ work is underpaid, so it is precisely on this point that institutions must incur additional costs to make this right.


Guidelines and contexts

I understand that for various reasons the additional costs for a decent wage for artists are the most difficult item to calculate. For example, artists’ work can’t be captured in FTEs because artists almost exclusively provide short-term service to institutions: only one exhibition, composition, production, performance, etc. What’s more, for most artforms, it isn’t easy to calculate the work in terms of hours because there is no strict boundary between artistic work and supporting work within one’s art practice. In other words, clocking in and out is at odds with an artistic practice. Therefore, a guideline was developed for the visual arts for non-sales-oriented presentations that do not take into account the ‘time criterion’ of production. For composition commissions there is a guideline based on the duration of the composition and the number of parts that must be written.

Nevertheless, even with these guidelines, it remains difficult to fully envision a fair wage for interdisciplinary practices and the various contexts within the arts and the creative industry that we as the artists of iii have to deal with. The artists we work with often have an interdisciplinary practice between art and technology, between performance and installation, in which each work is presented in its own way. The media that are used are sound, light, the body, and space. The artist develops the work from beginning to end, from concept to realisation. Sometimes the works are developed in teams, but usually individually. Presentations of the work take place at performance events, in exhibitions, or as participatory programmes. These can be stand-alone events in an art space or part of a multiday festival.

The different types of payment that iii offers artists for artistic work are for doing a residency (with a production budget), giving (and developing) a workshop, presenting the work they’ve produced at a performance evening or in an exhibition, and curating one or more events or an exhibition. The two guidelines mentioned are not always applicable in these cases. The guidelines can be further supplemented in the field of ‘new’ media (electronic/digital/interactive work), for the development and execution of original work (performance). Dividing development (residency with production budget) and presentation (as performance or exhibition) would also provide more insight into fair payment for this work.



There is also not yet full transparency about payment. In the field, there is still little openness about how much an artist gets for a presentation: different artists who present work at the same festival don’t know what the others are earning for their presentations. Also, it is often not known what artists who previously presented something at the same organisation received for their work, or what the total budget is for an event. Annual reports offer little insight into the remuneration of individual artists. Perhaps the additional costs cannot even be calculated correctly until we have transparency about what fees should now be used as a basis for a good discussion about what should be done differently until we have good guidelines for every art discipline and context that can serve as a benchmark.

But this transparency is exactly what is needed to implement the Fair Practice Code. Especially now, it’s important to show what organisations are doing to bring artists’ pay up to a fair level – a level that suits the central role of the artist in a vibrant and lively arts sector. Moreover, institutions can indicate what they will change in their budgeting for artists’ pay for the coming subsidy period compared to the previous period. How much will the remuneration per artist for different activities be increased compared to previous years? How many activities and artists will be included in the programme?

We must also strive to create a clear picture of the additional costs for artists’ pay, because it is precisely the artists who are at a disadvantage in negotiations, are the last in line when it comes to budgeting, and have the lowest incomes in the cultural sector. I therefore argue for making artists’ fees a higher priority, and to put them in the spotlight individually as the first question and to calculate the additional costs they incur.


More than additional costs

It is important to emphasise that the Fair Practice Code is about more than the (additional) costs of remuneration in accordance with the applicable collective labour agreements or guidelines. It is also about transparency, trust, diversity, and solidarity. In my opinion this question of solidarity is one that can be translated into fair distribution. What percentage of the art budget in the Netherlands actually ends up in the hands of actively practising artists? This is the question that I feel is missing in the subsidy form and about which I would like to have transparency. Thus, in addition to the question of whether every worker in the sector is paid fairly, there is also the question of fair distribution.

I already know all too well that this is a difficult question because it raises a painful issue in the sector. Many institutions have been barely keeping their heads above water for a number of years. After the budget cuts initiated by Halbe Zijstra (Secretary of State for Culture) in 2011 – which were reinforced by the provincial and municipal governments in equal measure – institutions have scaled down their personnel costs, have fired employees, and have started to hire more flexible labour. Many institutions were able to survive, but did not have sufficient budgets to pay artists a decent amount to present their work, let alone produce it.[ii] Whereas permanent salaried employees who had been dismissed could temporarily rely on unemployment benefits, the safety net for artists in form of the WWIK (Artists’ Work and Income Law) was already slashed by Rutte’s first government in 2011. Nevertheless, artists continued passionately slogging through for too little pay.

To achieve transparency in the issue of distribution, it is necessary to highlight artists’ pay in calculating the additional costs. That is why I look closely at the studies that have been carried out in all art sectors for the implementation of the Fair Practice Code to determine whether payment for artists has indeed been included. Otherwise we run the risk that governments’ embrace of the Fair Practice Code will ensure that payment for artists will again be relegated to the end of the line when it comes to budgeting, and that the code will therefore have an adverse effect.


The position of the artist

In the report on the application of the Fair Practice Code in the creative industry (architecture, design, and digital culture), I see little promise.[iii] The word ‘artist’ does not appear in the report, nor is there any talk of the role of commissions from structurally subsidised institutions and offering decent pay for artists as such. The word ‘zpp’er’ does appear in the report, but it is unclear whether this also refers to commissions for artists, or whether this refers to lighting technicians, photographers who documents events, or the bookkeeper who helps prepare annual reports. This seems to confirm my fear: it seems like the Creative Industry Fund NL – which commissioned the report – had lost sight of what had begun the discussion about fair practice: a fair cultural sector with decent pay for artists. It seems like the question asked of the SiRM (Strategies in Regulated Markets) researchers did not sufficiently take into account artists as a specific core group of workers in the creative sector.


The report is limited to the multiyear subsidised institutions in the creative sector and the data that these institutions’ boards of directors provided. No input was requested from the artists who were part of the programmes of these institutions. And – perhaps even more importantly – the artists who said no to pay they deemed (too) low weren’t given a voice either. This focus on the cultural institutions in the inquiry into the additional costs due to the Fair Practice Code ensures that artists are further marginalised, while the code in fact argues for the opposite. We know that artists’ position in negotiations is extremely weak, but they don’t have any say in the implementation of the code to determine the additional costs for their pay. Artists know best what is needed to realise their projects, but often only become involved during the execution of the project, when the budgets have already been determined and there is no more room for negotiation or discussing the budget.



Bring solidarity into focus

In the coming months, commissions will examine applications from institutions and look critically at how the institutions that want support from the government implement the Fair Practice Code. At the municipal level the deadlines are approaching for the national BIS[iv] (basic cultural infrastructure) in February and for the national funds after that. At the municipal level, it is probably too late to include this solidarity question on the form, but it can be part of the assessment.


For applications at the national level, progress is still possible. At least ‘artists fees for executive work’ is a permanent item in the budget model used by the ministry. If this is supplemented with questions that can be used to calculate the additional costs, then these can help answer the larger question of to what extent the means from the Kunstenplan (Plan for the Arts) contribute to artists’ incomes. My proposal for how to formulate these questions is as follows:


  • What percentage of the institution’s total budget is dedicated to payment for artistic work?
  • What percentage and what amount of the budgeted activity costs for which a subsidy is requested are dedicated to payment for artists?
  • What percentage and what amount of the institution’s total personnel costs consist of income for actively practising artists, including work that is not part of their artistic practice?[v]
  • How have the artists been involved in determining the budgets for the organisation’s activities?

These questions are important. The answers could determine whether it is necessary to set a quota. I have spent a few extra hours to personally add these questions to our subsidy application to the municipality, to complete the application according to our definition of fair practice. In addition, I have noted that at iii, pay for artists isn’t last in line, but is the first item in our budget. For the national funds, it may not be too late to lobby for the inclusion of this solidarity question and monitor it in the future by way of the annual reports so that this point in the applications can also be compared when assessing whether the Fair Practice Code is being followed.

Let us ensure that the artist is central in the implementation and enforcement of the Fair Practice Code!


With thanks to Joram Kraaijeveld, Michelle Schulkens, and Matteo Marangoni.


[i]           The questions and tables are available for download here (link to PDF).

[ii]          In some sectors, including the creative industry, artists could apply directly for project subsidies themselves.

[iii]         ‘Op weg naar het nieuwe normaal in de creatieve industrie – Toepassing van de Fair Practice Code in de meerjarig gesubsidieerde creatieve industrie’ (‘Towards a new normal in the creative industry: Applying the Fair Practice Code in the multiyear-subsidy-based creative industry’), SiRM, 15 August 2019.

[iv]         BIS: Basis-infrastructuur (basic infrastructure), the institutions that are directly financed by the ministry.

[v]          See also the Belgian initiative 51% (http://www.51procent.be/) that argues for 51% of all paid functions in the arts sector to be carried out by actively practising artists.

About Marije Baalman