A mural by James Earley in Dublin, photograph by William Murphy (via Flickr)

Applications for Ireland’s new Basic Income for the Arts pilot program, which will give 2,000 artists €325 (~$354) a week with no restrictions on spending, will officially open tomorrow, April 12. The selected artists will be randomly chosen from a pool of qualified applicants, and the pilot program will be tested for a period of three years.

“It is recognition, at government level, of the important role of the arts in Irish society. It also places a value on the time spent developing a creative practice and producing art,” reads a press release for the initiative.

The program is not restricted to the visual arts: Literature, theater, music, dance, circus, and architecture are among the many eligible mediums. The application is also noncompetitive — artists only have to meet the eligibility requirements in order to be entered into the pool.

“We recognise that there is a vast body of time that goes into the making of the creative work that we as a society enjoy, that not all parts of a creative practice are evident in ‘finished work,’” Catherine Martin, Ireland’s minister for tourism, culture, arts, gaeltacht, sport, and media, told Hyperallergic in an email. “The time spent on creative practice is what underpins Ireland’s world renowned arts and culture.”

Other cities have launched similar programs in past years, many in response to COVID-19’s enormous economic toll on artists. In March of 2021, San Francisco started a program to give 180 artists a stipend of $1,000 a month for a trial term of 18 months. 

In 2020, a nonprofit in St. Paul, Minnesota, gave $500 dollars to 25 local artists, also for 18 months, and in New York, another privately funded program is giving 2,400 artists $1,000 per month, for another 18-month period.

“The overarching objective of the scheme is to address the earnings instability that can be associated with working in the arts,” Martin continued. “The research programme which underpins the pilot will inform future Irish Government policy for Ireland’s artists and creative arts workers. In researching impacts on recipients and on the ecology of the arts, this pilot scheme has the potential to change the landscape of the arts in Ireland and how we fund it.”

Ireland’s new pilot program and others like it are more similar to universal basic income (UBI) than to grants and awards, the recipients of which are often judged on artistic merit. Like UBI, the funds for basic income initiatives come with no restrictions on how they can be spent (there is no requirement that recipients use the money for artistic projects, for instance).

Universal basic income has become a more and more widely discussed policy. Numerous studies have been published on its efficacy and trial runs have been launched across the world, including programs in New York’s Hudson and Ulster counties. In Ireland, government officials think universal income for artists could be transformative for the arts.

“This pilot scheme represents a ground-breaking opportunity for us to explore how the role of the artist in Irish society can be protected and nurtured so we can continue to be inspired by great art for generations to come,” Martin said in the press release.

Applications for Ireland’s Basic Income for the Arts program open tomorrow and close May 12.

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Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.