Saturday, May 1, 2004

What's Happened About Status of the Artist?

May 2004

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In 2001 the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance launched a campaign to reinitiate ‘status of the artist’. Thanks to the vigorous response to this campaign from Saskatchewan artists advances have been made. The most notetable gain is the 2002 Status of the Artist Act. This makes Saskatchewan the second province, after Quebec, to take a legislative initiative. In 2002 Culture Youth and Recreation established a Minister’s Advisory Committee to examine status issues and make recommendations. The report of the Committee was delivered to the government in September of 2003. The community is now awaiting the release of the report.

The Saskatchewan Arts Alliance has urged further advancements, pressing for collective bargaining rights for artists, taxation reform, examination of benefits and pension issues and promotion of coherent government policy related to contracting and support for artists. Concretely, SAA has proposed a government handbook to explain artist’s needs, work patterns and contractual issues. The SAA has continued to conduct independent research, commission promotional material, and urged the implementation of the Artists’ Code and appointment of a Status of the Artist Commission or like body, as called for in the 1993 Saskatchewan Status Report.

What’s in the Status Act You Ask?
The 2002 Saskatchewan Status of the Artist Act is enabling legislation. Its provisions state that the government recognizes artists provide an important contribution to the cultural, social, economic and educational enrichment of Saskatchewan. It recognizes the value and importance of artists contribution to cultural heritage and development, and that artists should be fairly compensated for the creation and use of their artistic works.

The Act affirms certain fundamental principles – the right of artists to free speech and freedom of expression, the right to promote their social and economic interests through professional organizations, the right to earn a living from their art, to be treated fairly by government and society, to enjoy the same economic rights and social benefits available to other workers, rights to education and training, and the value of making artists’ work available to the people of Saskatchewan.

The government, through the Act, undertakes to promote and protect the status of artists, to promote working conditions for artists in government, to honour scale agreements of artists’ organizations and to honour the protocols established by those organizations.

The Act commits the government to examine a number of status issues critical to artists. These include labour relations and collective bargaining rights, the application of workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety legislation to artists, pension plans, education, professional development and training programs, taxation, and other issues. The Act empowers the Minister to determine regulations, create advisory committees and propose amendments to the Act.

There Is Good News!
In Ontario, due to Liberal Party election promises, the government has called for a Status of the Artist Council to investigate the position of artists in the province and to make recommendations for action on Status issues. An encouraging renewal. Likewise Newfoundland’s government is poised to proceed in a similar fashion. Internationally UNESCO has continued efforts to advance artists’ status issues. Nationally the Canadian Conference of the Arts National Conference for 2004, to be held in Saskatchewan, will focus on Status of the Artist.

Universal Program
“Status of the Artist” should be recognized as a universal program for artists. The developments that advance “status “ advance the practical interests of all artists, those organized or who choose to remain unaffiliated, urban or rural, north or south, self-employed or employed. “Status” is about the struggle for artists to work for fair fees, to have fair contract terms, benefits, copyright in their work and just equal treatment. Let us be clear to policy makers that artists are workers – whether our work is in performance, writing, craft, costume design, photography, film or any other of the many art forms – and we deserve equity with other workers.

In Saskatchewan There Is More To Be Done
Saskatchewan Artists and their organizations have advocated action on Status issues over many years. Because of the direct action taken in 2001 – the letters, phone calls, emails – the government was convinced artists really wanted action. The result has been positive, but the Status Act is enabling only, a statement of intent, which hopefully will guide government policy. What is missing are specific programs, regulations and amendments to legislation that will have a real impact on artists’ lives. Such steps as taxation reform, collective bargaining rights, access to the safety net programs other workers have (EI, workers compensation for example), in other words - breaking the barriers. From the beginning, SAA has called for the establishment of a Status commission or like body that would actively support and guide status development, acting as a key to unlocking government programs at all levels and motivating status initiatives. It is still on SAA’s agenda.

Your views expressed to government are always important – to contact key members of the Saskatchewan Government:

CYR Minster, Hon. Joan Beatty, Rm. 345, Legislative Building, Regina S4S 0B3, (306) 787-0355, Fax 798-2009 Email: jbeatty@mla.legassembly.sk.ca

Premier Lorne Calvert, Rm 226, Legislative Building, Regina Sk., S4S 0B3, Email: premier@gov.sk.ca

Your MLA – contact information for all MLA’s can be found online at www.legassembly.sk.ca/members/default.htm