Recognise Art as Work

NAVA is working to legislate minimum pay and conditions through Award coverage for the visual arts, craft and design sector. 

Graphic image with white block text on bright coloured green, orange, blue and pink shapes on a black background. Text reads: Recognise Artists as Workers.

Image: Nadia Hernández, 2023.

[ID: Graphic image with black block text on pastel orange shapes on a bright orange background. The text reads, 'Recognise Art as Work'.]

Just like every worker in Australia, artists and arts workers deserve pay and conditions that reflect their value.

Industry or Occupation Awards (modern awards) are legal documents that outline the minimum pay rates and conditions of employment. Unlike most working Australians covered by an Award, the pay and conditions of professional artists and arts workers are informed through a patchwork system, leading to inconsistent and exploitative practices.

NAVA’s Recognise Art as Work campaign aims to establish an Award for the visual arts, craft and design sector through the Fair Work Commission.

The Australian Government made a commitment under the new National Cultural Policy to include minimum standards and award coverage of the arts sector as part of the Modern Awards Review. Announced on 15 September 2023, the Modern Awards Review 2023-2024 will investigate potential coverage gaps in the arts and cultural sector. 

A discussion paper was issued by the Fair Work Commission on 6 November 2023 and submissions were invited in response by 4 December 2023. Consultations with interested parties will be held  22 January-2 February 2024.

There has never been a clearer opportunity for the arts community to establish critical workplace rights and entitlements.

Current conditions

Underpaid and undervalued: Artists and arts workers play an essential role in our community, supporting social cohesion, connection and wellbeing. 97% of Australians engage with the arts through attendance at exhibitions, visual arts festivals or fairs, encounters with public street art, or in the creation of art itself. 

Despite their importance in our community, more and more artists and arts workers are living precariously, balancing production costs and living expenses with income from artist activity, often supplemented by part-time work.

61% of visual artists make less than $10,000 per year from their creative work and their incomes are declining. They have little job security, often taking on multiple jobs to sustain their artistic careers. Many miss out on superannuation, leave and other entitlements.

Non-enforceable standards: Some employers refer to or adapt existing Awards and Enterprise Agreements that apply across a fraction of the section. Others use the recommended payment standards in NAVA’s Code of Practice for Visual Arts, Craft, and Design (the Code), make up the numbers or rely on volunteers to do the work of what should be paid staff. 

Released in September 2022, the sixth edition of the Code includes a full revision to the Payment Standards section, which was informed and agreed upon through consultations with thousands of artists, arts workers, and employer groups.

Although the Australian Government endorsed NAVA’s Code in the new National Cultural Policy, its recommended payment standards remain voluntary.

Why an Award?

Awards (modern awards) are legal documents that set minimum employment standards in a specific industry or sector. This includes minimum pay rates, work hours, leave entitlements, penalty rates, and allowances. 

More than 100 industry or occupation awards cover the majority of people who work in Australia, including live performance artists and arts workers under the Live Performance Award

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) gives the Commission the power to create a new modern award. It also confers authority to vary the terms of an existing award in circumstances where an amendment would better ensure protection for a particular industry.

Establishing a Visual Arts Award is a significant opportunity to enhance remuneration and structures to reflect the proper value of work, improve career pathways, and address the attraction and retention crisis for professional working artists and arts workers.

NAVA’s Code of Practice for Visual Arts, Craft and Design (the Code) provides important pay guidelines for employers of artists. Developed through extensive consultation with artists, arts workers, sector networks and advisors, the Code offers a helpful starting point for developing a legally enforceable award.

After that, NAVA recommends the Government undergo further consultation with the sector and engage appropriate legal and industrial expertise. The Live Performance Award provides an excellent example of the depth that must be included.

Next Steps

NAVA’s actions:

  • Consult with the sector for a response to the discussion paper that the Fair Work Commission released on 6 November 2023 as part of the Modern Awards Review 2023-2024. 
  • Continue collaborative work with unions, including the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
  • Work with CAST Contemporary Art and Social Transformation, RMIT University on definitions of types of work.
  • Confirm support from colleague organisations for an Award.
  • Present an overview of gaps in existing Award coverage for employers and employees to the Fair Work Commission. See letter from the ACTU and NAVA's submissions to the Modern Awards Review.
  • Participate in consultations with the Fair Work Commission on 20 December 2023 and 22 January - 2 February 2024.
  • Contribute to the drafting of an Award for the Visual Arts, Craft and Design sector with support from industrial lawyers through the Arts Law Centre of Australia and the Fair Work Commission. 

We encourage those with expertise and capacity to assist NAVA with this work to email us via


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