The Reform of the ‘Artist Status’ (2020-2022)

The Path Travelled by SOTA

By Katleen Vermeir

In the public debates on the issue of the 'artist status' that SOTA organised over the course of 2020 and 2021, a number of proposals were developed that crystallised in the SOTA symposium held as part of the “How to Live & Work Now” programme at Kaaitheater in February 2021. In April 2021, SOTA was invited to participate in WITA (Working in the Arts), a Technical Working Group consisting of Flemish and French-speaking artists’ federations, representative organisations, experts and members of the social security administrations and the initiating cabinets of minister Dermagne (PS) (Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue), minister Clarinval (MR) (Federal Public Service for Self-Employed) and minister Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) (Federal Public Service for Social Security). The Technical Working Group, gathering in early 2021, was invited to come up with proposals for the Artists Committee, the unemployment rules for artist and the KVR.1 Its mandate was to work on a coherent set of rules that would match the real-life situation of art workers.

After the group ended its work, SOTA continued to debate with various stakeholders (unions, art federations, artists, employers) and formulated detailed comments on the first draft of the updated legislation. After intense political debates, the Vivaldi majority reached an agreement in May 2022 on an amended version of the WITA proposal. The group was asked to formulate a Joint Recommendation on the draft legislation as it then stood. This recommendation was submitted by WITA on June 10, 2022. It included proposals for significant changes for issues that still failed to match the spirit of the WITA proposal and therefore raised concerns. Unfortunately, a number of French-speaking organisations from the Technical Working Group had at that point expressed their withdrawal of confidence in the reform.

SOTA has chosen to continue its engagement by preparing opinions and analyses with suggestions for amending the draft legislation. On August 23, 2022, the new rules on the Artwork Allowance (Kunstwerkuitkering) were published in the Belgian Official Gazette (applicable from October 1, 2022). At the time of writing this text, the Artwork Committee (Kunstwerkcommissie) and the WITA platform have not yet been established and the Amateur Arts Allowance (Amateurkunstenvergoeding) has yet to be formally converted into legislation.2

The group of people that were most involved in this long reform process were Kobe Matthys, Katrien Reist, Katleen Vermeir, Ingrid Vranken and Anyuta Wiazemsky Snauwaert.

Below is an overview of focus areas for which SOTA has (jointly) campaigned and which were included in the original WITA proposal of 2021. A number of these issues have also been incorporated in the final legal texts. Also a number of future concerns are mentioned.

Need for specific rules for art workers

The need for specific unemployment rules for art workers has been and still is regularly questioned. SOTA has defended this requirement on the basis of the typical challenges that characterise the sector, i.e. structurally un(der)paid work, invisible work, short contracts, multiple employers, working abroad and major financial and artistic risks. SOTA has taken as its basis here the resolutions of UNESCO3 and the European Parliament,4 which encourage member states to adopt specific social security rules for artists. Not as a privilege, but to ensure that art workers enjoy the same socio-economic rights as other workers.

The art sector in the Artwork Committee

In the WITA proposal, the current ‘Artists Committee’ was converted into an Artwork Committee. Its main task will be to issue Art Work Attests giving access to the specific unemployment rules, to the use of the 1 bis rules5 and specific rules for the self-employed. The Art Work Attest must be renewed every five years. The greater role of the sector in the new committee was essential for avoiding the differing interpretations by the administration of the current ‘artist status’. The RVA/ONEM, the trade unions and the employers will still be members of the committee, in addition to artists and sector federations. The WITA proposal emphasised that the sector should have a decisive vote in decisions about ‘artistic activities’. But this did not find its way into the proposed legislation.

SOTA was pleased that ‘pluri and transdisciplinary domains’ were included in the list of artistic domains in the WITA proposal – but notes that these have been omitted from that list in the draft legislation. By introducing pluri and transdisciplinary domains, the WITA wanted to ensure that the Artwork Committee has the necessary expertise to recognise more experimental contemporary art practices that do not fit into specific disciplines or manifest themselves in recognisable forms of presentation.

‘invisible’ work

On this very specific issue to the cultural sector, SOTA focused strongly. For awarding the Art Work Attest, the WITA proposal took into account the invisible work that artists do to facilitate their professional practice and to find work for themselves and others. Work which often goes uncompensated: artistic research, prospecting, seeking funds, writing subsidy applications, finding co-producers, expanding personal networks, distributing work. SOTA has no interest in promoting un(der)paid work: on the contrary, work in the context of an assignment for an organisation must be remunerated according to the principles of fair pay.

In the WITA proposal, a distinction was made between quality-based criteria that value invisible work, and quantitative criteria for access to the unemployment rules. In the draft legislation, additional quantitative criteria for applications for the Art Work Attest were added during the political debates. This had the effect of partially eroding the spirit of the WITA proposal.

Easier access, but stricter rules

SOTA and a number of federations have worked very hard to avoid the reversal of acquired social protection and any social regression. This could occur if the requirement in the existing status to prove only three contracts/working days for the renewal were to be abandoned.

Everyone agreed on easier access, but three contracts in order to renew the attest proved a major concern in the Technical Working Group, and among the employers’ organisations and the social partners. For some organisations, access to social security is only justified where there is sufficient contribution through paid work. This of course fails to take into account the situation in the cultural sector with structural underfunding and underpayment, often not corresponding with effective working time. But if no changes to the current status were possible, the obligation (in case an artist worked less than 156 days in 18 months) to look for work outside the sector would also be maintained.

The WITA proposal put much emphasis on mitigating the effect of stricter rules. These have been taken over in the draft legislation in its current form. We are talking here about:

  • Multi-annuality the number of days required for a renewal can be spread over 36 months. It was important to defend this multi-annuality, which allows longer creation periods, and better risk absorbtion (e.g. if a grant application is not accepted or an exhibition is cancelled).
  • The ‘pay basket’ other jobs in and outside the sector may count towards the accumulation of the required number of working days/gross wages. This reflects the existing real-life situations of artists who combine different jobs.
  • General use of the cachet rule this converts a gross amount into a number of days, making it easier to achieve the required number of days.

Structural Low Remuneration

SOTA considered it important to keep the number of days/gross amount for the three-year renewal of the special unemployment rules low, justifying this as follows:

  • structural underpayment and underfinancing of the sector where properly paid work is scarce. As long as average wages in the art sector do not rise and underpaid work remains a structural problem, the gross amount/number of days for renewal of the special rules cannot simply be increased without causing a major impact on the sector.
  • general lack of data on artists’ socio-economic position. SOTA referred to the latest available study at that time Loont Passie? (Does Passion Pay?) by Ghent University, 2014, taking the lowest earners (visual artists) from the sector as a reference point. The annual net artistic income for 25% of this group is around 1820EUR net.6 The follow-up study Loont Passie?-02 with 2019 as its reference year (available only in April 2022), shows that the situation has not really improved since then.7
  • the impact of the corona pandemic on the sector
  • solidarity with fellow French-speaking artists who are having a hard time finding paid work and opportunities for subsidies.
  • concern about potential de-professionalisation. Despite the fact that other jobs may count towards the renewal of the special rules, it is important that artists who initiate projects, who have to take care of their own wages and funding, and bear all risks of their projects, can continue to do so professionally. For (experimental) film-makers, e.g., doing other jobs as a solution to save up a (too large) number of days or a minimum gross amount could make it impossible to practice their profession in a quality way.
  • generally it is positive that artists can have other jobs count towards entry and renewal, but this should not be a reason to become too strict. Artistic professions are the only professions in which the artist subsidises their practice and the entire arts field through free and unpaid labour and working in other professions. In many cases, this is a question of necessity rather than choice.8 It is therefore important that in all artistic professions fair pay become a reality so there is no longer any need for un(der)paid work. The crucial point is that art workers need protection first and foremost and that, the general income in the sector needs to increase!

New Zealand model versus controls on artists

In the current ‘status’, the artist must prove 156 days of work, of which 104 artistic, over a period of 18 months in order not to be obliged to apply for a job outside the arts. Many artists fail to achieve this number of days of artistic work owing to the structural underpayment of their work. In addition, controls are carried out to see whether the artist is actively looking for work. Hence the importance of recognising the periods that are considered ‘inactive’ under the existing system – so-called invisible work – but which are precisely the most important creative periods and absolutely necessary to maintain a professional practice.

SOTA proposed the New Zealand model as an alternative to controls. In the PACE9 (Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment) programme the artist who develops an artistic work that will enable him/her to receive income in the future or to further develop his/her artistic practice is regarded as someone who is actively looking for work. He/she is therefore not required to apply for jobs outside the arts field. This has been taken over in the WITA proposal in the form of the Art Work Attest (Kunstwerkattest), where these professional activities (based on qualitative criteria) count towards the renewal of the Art Work Attest. Holders of the Attest are therefore already automatically actively looking for work, so there is no longer any monitoring or sanctioning.

Future Concerns

Art Work Attest

The definition used in the draft legislation of what ‘professional practice’ consists of, namely “the professional income and time investment are sufficient to provide a part of the person’s own livelihood”, creates uncertainty because it is not clear whether additional criteria will be imposed in order to achieve recognition as a professional artist.

Artwork Committee

There is concern that the criteria on the basis of which a certificate can be issued are still too vague. Even before the committee is installed, it is necessary that a playbook be drawn up in collaboration with the sector and the social partners.

Amateur Art Remuneration

The former ‘KVR’ (low fee rule) will not be abolished, but will be usable only in the amateur arts, but the extent to which this will be properly regulated is not yet clear.

Pension accrual, copyrights, 1 Bis contracts, self-employed

There was little or no space in the WITA discussions to examine these important topics that have an impact on the status.

Fair practices

Culture is a matter that is squeezed between many policy levels in our country. The centre of gravity for employment matters lies at the level of the Flemish and French communities, while Social Security is a national competence.This prevents the implementation of a coherent policy and ensures that art workers become a plaything of the system. Artists are constantly in a Catch-22 situation. Owing to a lack of subsidies and budgets in the organisations, they are accused of not earning enough and therefore not being ‘professional’, with the effect of barring them from social protection because of not contributing sufficiently to it. In both communities, budgets have been shrinking for decades and sustainable employment seems more and more utopian, despite the greater awareness and concrete actions.10

Perimeter of beneficiaries

SOTA considers it necessary to base the reform on art-specific labour, in order to legitimise the need for special regulations related to working conditions in the arts sector.


SOTA believes that existing profiles in the current status should be allowed to keep their rights, and hopes that, in the context of the increasing ‘platformisation’ and project-based working in other sectors, this reform can serve as inspiration for specific regulations adapted to the conditions in these professions.

  1. KVR (Kleine Vergoedingsregeling): KVR is a ‘small fee rule’ for commissioned, occasional, non-professional work. No social contributions have to be paid and no social security rights can be claimed. 

  2. Regular updates and detailed information on the Kunstwerkuitkering: 

  3. search for “status of the artist” on 

  4. search for “Social security status of artists” on 

  5. Article 1 Bis: If no employment contract can be made for a commissioned work because there is no question of granting employer authority, the artist is still considered an employee under certain conditions in the context of a 1 Bis ruling. 

  6. The study speaks of a net median income of visual artists as employees of €13,000, with a quarter of them having a net annual income of €7,000 or less. However, this income also includes unemployment benefits, pensions, bursaries, work from non-artistic jobs, prizes and copyrights. If, according to this study, visual artists derive 26% of their income from artistic work, this group has around €1820 of net annual artistic income. The study also shows a huge gender and age wage gap among visual artists. 

  7. search for “Loont passie?” on 

  8. ”…the largest subsidy for the arts comes not from governments, patrons or the private sector, but from artists themselves in the form of unpaid or underpaid labour”. UNESCO, Culture and working conditions for artists (2019), p6 

  9. New Zealand – “The Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment (PACE)” in: The Status of Artists in Europe, EU Parliament’s committee on Culture and Education, 2006, p 92; to be found on 

  10. Despite that, and according to the new Arts Decree, fair payments have become mandatory, this remains uncertain, because there is no provision, in the 2023-2027 structural subsidy round, for additional subsidies for organisations to compensate artists fairly.