It’s time we close the pay gap for artists with disability

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Art is one of Australia’s greatest and most important assets. Artists have the power to define and transform our country’s culture, identity, and future through their work.

Yet despite their value in society, the art industry is overflowing with alarming inequities and unfair work conditions. This disparity becomes even more pronounced when you factor in both art and disability.

With recent research revealing just how large these inequities have grown, it’s more urgent than ever that we fight for the rights of artists with disability, or fear losing their authentic insights.

Artists with disability earn 42% less than artists without disability

Over the last decade, the income of artists with disability has plummeted. Pay gaps have widened, poor job prospects and low income has soared, and the income of artists with disability has dropped by over 20%.

Today, professional artists with disability earn 42% less in total annual income than artists without disability. In 2010, artists with disability earned only 8% less.

This means, that for every dollar an artist without disability earns, an artist with disability barely scrapes by with 58 cents.

A graph detailing the pay gap between artists with disability and artists without disability
Artists with disability earn 42 percent less than artists without disability. Image source: Arts Access Australia

It’s undeniable that we need to close the disability pay gap for professional artists. If we want the stories, values, and perspectives of Australians with disability to continue to be shared, then we must fight for change.

Audiences want diverse perspectives

You don’t have to look far to see that Australia is bursting with diverse and unique artistic talent. Not only do 1 in 5 Australians live with a disability, but artists with disability also make up 10% of all professional artists.

Behind these artworks are the people whose ideas and perspectives have the potential to change and shape our lives. History has been dominated by many famous and accomplished artists with disability. From Beethoven, to Vincent van Gogh, to Stephen Wiltshire, throughout the ages art has been a tool to express different points of views untranslatable by words.

Research shows that Australian audiences have an appetite for art created by people with disability. There are growing opportunities in art to connect audiences with perspectives different to their own. Many artists with disability draw upon their lived experiences to explore new avenues of creative and aesthetic possibility, which inspires audiences to see things from new angles.

It’s clear that audiences want diverse perspectives, yet challenges for art and disability remain.

A collage of artwork by artists with disability
EPIC hosts an annual art exhibition for artists with disability. 100 percent of the profits go to the artists.

Support for artists with disability

Under-representation of artists with disability is a major area of concern, and research shows that there are a number of barriers still present.

Most notable is the meagre amount of sponsorship and grant opportunities available for people with disability. On top of that, research has revealed that 60% of arts and culture organisations do not employ anyone with a disability, and less than 40% have a disability action plan in place.

This is a gap that all Australians should be paying attention to. It’s alarming to see the apparent inequality of the art industry and the decline in artists’ income, rights, and respect over the last decade.

Every day, Australian artists with disability are confronted by a multitude of attitudinal and economic barriers. Yet, our artists still remain hopeful. 2019 saw the beginning of the ‘Real Money, Real Jobs’ campaign – a plea for Australians to fight for real money and real jobs for artists with disability.

In the light of recent research, this message is more important than ever. For many people with disability, art is their life, their livelihood, and their soul. Everyone deserves to work a job they love and earn a fair income for their work, including artists with disability.

Shifting Perspectives

At EPIC, we’re all about levelling the playing field for people with disability and creating communities that value and welcome people with disability.

EPIC holds an annual art exhibition for professional and emerging artists with disability. It is absolutely free to enter and 100% of the profits go to the artists.

This year will be the fifth consecutive exhibition and it will celebrate the theme ‘Shifting Perspectives.’ The exhibition will run from 29 October – 10 November 2019 at Graydon Gallery in New Farm, Brisbane.

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