NAVA’s ongoing advocacy for the recognition of art as work

Alongside recent work on the Modern Awards Review, NAVA has commenced the year with several ongoing initiatives aligned with Revive and focussed on improving conditions of work and practice in the visual arts.

Art is Work and the NDIS

Feedback received by NAVA through the Recognise Art as Work campaign has highlighted a persistent issue: art is categorised by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as therapy or recreation rather than real work. Disability advocates have long been pushing for art to be recognised as a professional career option. Discussions with disability arts organisations and NAVA's Disability Focus Group have raised that the NDIA needs to have a better understanding of the work that artists do and that participating in the arts supports wellbeing, community involvement and economic participation.

NAVA is collaborating with disability advocates to back the ongoing call for the recognition of the work and careers of professional artists with disabilities within the NDIS framework. 

NAVA attended a series of Attorney-General’s Department roundtables on copyright and artificial intelligence (AI) in 2023. This led to proposed legislative changes for remote learning, and the creation of the Copyright and Artificial Intelligence Reference Group (CAIRG). The government plans to prioritise reforms based on consultation feedback.

NAVA remains involved, focusing particularly on orphan works, quotation, and AI. At CAIRG’s inaugural meeting in February 2024, NAVA helped establish group priorities, emphasising data inputs for AI training, followed by output concerns and ad hoc issues from other government AI initiatives, such as Responsible and Safe AI.

In 2023, Workforce Australia expanded recognition of professional arts activities for Australian freelance and part-time workers for Mutual Obligations requirements, marking a sector win. NAVA is currently liaising with the Department of Workplace Relations (DEWR) to address concerns and ensure clarity and fairness for artists and arts workers navigating job-seeking requirements. We're working to ensure Centrelink and service provider staff are educated on recent changes, and advocating for broader inclusion of activities and the expansion of point allocations:

1. Centrelink and service provider staff:

  • Ensure consistency in interpreting job-seeking criteria across Workforce Australia staff.
  • Add the expanded point allocations to Workforce Australia’s How to earn points webpage.
  • Improve the factsheet on the Workforce Australia website and ensure it is provided to Centrelink staff and service providers.
  • Discussing training to ensure staff understanding of the specialised nature of work in the arts.

2. Job searches: 

  • Call for an expansion to include activities like responding to an EOI, commission and exhibition call-outs.

3. Point allocation:

  • NAVA raised concern about the equal weighting of points for employment-seeking activities for creative workers, noting the significant time disparity between applying for arts grants and applying for jobs.

4. Sufficient work test example:

  • In the provided example of Lilian’s commission on the factsheet, NAVA questioned discrepancy in reported hours versus actual hours.
  • NAVA noted that the organisation should provide compensation above minimum wage. However, it is common in the arts for remuneration to be disproportionately low. Individuals currently without work and in need of income are often compelled to accept such rates, especially if they are young. Additionally, they might view it as a chance to kickstart their careers. NAVA raised concerns about the disadvantage faced by those who accept low-paying jobs.

5. Lump sums:

  • NAVA requested confirmation that the averaging of lump sums extends to artists and arts workers on income support e.g. receiving a grant, commission or arts prize.

6. Voluntary work: 

  • NAVA noted discrepancy in value between provider-recommended voluntary work and artist-chosen voluntary work.
  • Queried providers’ knowledge in recommending suitable voluntary work in the arts.
  • NAVA asserts that people are not disadvantaged for undertaking volunteer work of their choosing, such as in a gallery that is aligned with their career goals.

7. Information: 

  • NAVA is seeking collaboration with DEWR on a more detailed resource for artists and Centrelink staff. 
  • Proposing to co-host an information session on the changes. 

Meanwhile, NAVA continues to track progress of the recent Inquiry into Workforce Australia Employment Services which found that the current approach to Mutual Obligations is ineffective, self-defeating, and requires reform. Further, NAVA is deeply concerned by reports of a backlog of 1.1m claims across all payments while around half of all calls to Centrelink went unanswered in the six-month period, July and December 2023. The Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU) has launched a petition calling for the immediate suspension of Mutual Obligations and all Centrelink debt recovery processes.

Education Reform

Released on 25 February 2024, the Australian Universities Accord Final Report proposes 47 recommendations for extensive long-term reform for the higher education sector. While the visual arts is not specifically addressed, several recommendations align with those submitted by NAVA, promising substantial impact on the sector if adopted. Key points include: scrapping the Job Ready Graduates program, restructuring HECS/HELP loans based on future earnings, improving access to student income support, initiatives to improve the student experience, strengthening First Nations representation and self-determination and commissioning a First Nations-led review of higher education.

Workforce Advisory

NAVA Executive Director Penelope Benton has been appointed to the new Arts Strategic Workforce Advisory Committee (SWAG). Over two years, the group will provide advice and industry insights on workforce challenges and needs to Service and Creative Skills Australia (SaCSA), a not-for-profit, industry-led Jobs and Skills Council representing the Arts, Personal Services, Retail, Tourism and Hospitality sectors. The first meeting is in late March 2024. This is an Australian Government initiative to improve skills development, employment opportunities and economic growth.

Visual Arts Data

NAVA continues to track progress of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) review and the  Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research (BCARR) Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Accounts Methodology Refresh consultation to review the current definition, scope, methodology and data used for quantifying the visual arts. NAVA has been invited to participate in a stakeholder workshop for Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Accounts Round 2 Consultation in mid-March 2024. NAVA asserts that a more holistic and accurate understanding of the visual arts, craft, and design sector will enable better-informed decisions, policies, and investments in our vital sector.

Image Credit

Yucky opening night, at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental until 4 May 2024. Photo features Yucky artists Sam Petersen and Sophie Cassar. Artworks pictured include Finnegan Shannon and Sam Peterson Do you want us here or not, 2023, plywood, paint, and Elizabeth Reed Peer Viewed Body Parts of a Work, 2023, mixed media installation. The exhibition has been developed by Sam Petersen, facilitated by Rayleen Forester, Grace Marlow and Patrice Sharkey, in conversation with public program curators William Maggs and Hen Vaughan. Photo by Thomas McCammon.⁠

ID: Gallery visitors looking at various artworks including a blue bench seat and TV monitor. Two people using wheelchairs are meeting in the centre of the frame and another is walking and holding a phone.