Premier’s Task Force calls for improving status & economic security of New Brunswick artists

Graphic novelist Patrick Allaby at work in his Sackville studio lettering a page for an upcoming project. Photo submitted

Writers and artists in Sackville are welcoming newly-released recommendations for improving the economic security and professional status of New Brunswick’s creators.

After seven years of work, the Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist issued a comprehensive report last Friday calling for a wide range of measures.

They include more government financial support for the arts such as increased funding for arts programs in schools.

The task force, appointed by Conservative Premier David Alward in 2014, also recommends legislative changes that would give artists better EI coverage, increase their Canada Pension Plan benefits, provide stronger copyright protections, make written contracts for their services mandatory and establish minimum fee scales.

One of the report’s 24-recommendations calls on the province to explore implementing a guaranteed annual income that would benefit all low-income and economically insecure workers including artists.

“If these recommendations were implemented, it could really change things and make it a lot easier for artists to live in New Brunswick,” says Sackville graphic novelist Patrick Allaby.

As a writer who has just published The Water Lover, a book about being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes while he was studying in the fine arts program at Mount Allison, Allaby strongly supports the task force recommendation that the province explore ways of allowing workers to carry the benefits of employment health plans from paid jobs to self-employment.

“For someone like myself who works for awhile and then pursues art in between jobs, I essentially end up trying to stock up on as much insulin as I can when I have a job,” he says.

“It gets me through the lean months of not having really good health insurance because employer-based insurance is so much more comprehensive than anything that could be privately offered.”

The task force calls this a “portable benefits system” with health and pension benefits that are “connected to an individual, rather than a particular employer, and so they can be taken from job to job without interruption in coverage or loss of funding.”

Taxing tech giants

Writer and retired Mt. A. professor Virgil Hammock

Virgil Hammock, retired Mt. A. professor of fine arts, also welcomes the task force report.

“I’m delighted,” he says. “It’s been a long time coming, the arts are an important part of our economy.”

Hammock, who is past president of the Canada section of the International Association of Art Critics, says that while he likes the way the report reads, its words won’t mean much without provincial government backing, including more money for artists’ grants through the New Brunswick Arts Board (artsnb) and for exhibitions at public art galleries.

He says he supports the task force recommendation for increasing taxes on technology giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Netflix as long as the added revenues go to support the arts.

And Hammock also favours the recommendation that visual artists receive 5% of the sale price of their work whenever it is resold.

“Artists that I know, we’ve had long conversations about this,” he says. “Once their work is out of their hands, that’s it, the art work can re-sell several times over and they never see a penny of it.”

Transition committee

A news release issued on Friday said the provincial government has agreed to establish a transition committee to analyze the task force report’s recommendations.

It will include representatives from ArtsLink NB, artsnb and the Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick as well as staff from several government departments.

“Our artists contribute significantly to our province’s economy, rich culture and quality of life,” the release quotes Premier Higgs as saying.

“I thank the representatives on the task force for their significant work on this initiative.”

To read the Report of the Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist, click here.

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