England’s First Artists Union Officially Recognized in Landmark Decision

The AUE was founded in 2014 by artists sick of being exploited.

AUE protesting government austerity measures. Photo: Artists' Union England Facebook.

Back in 2014, a group of artists sick of being exploited organized a de facto union. Three years on, Artists’ Union England (AUE) has finally been formally recognized in a landmark decision that will make it the country’s first official union for professional visual and applied artists, the group has announced.

The average annual income for visual artists is between £5,000-£9,000 ($7,000-$12,000) and yet, time and again they are misused and asked to work for free, often given the excuse of being offered “exposure” in exchange for their work.

The 2016 AGM of Artists' Union England. Photo via AUE's Facebook.

The 2016 AGM of Artists’ Union England. Photo via AUE’s Facebook.

According to their website, AUE was founded to “redress the fact that all other cultural workers had independent representation from a Trade Union.” The organization hopes to combat the ramifications of austerity measures and cuts to arts organisations, local authorities, galleries, and publicly funded bodies.

The formal “certificate of independence” was finally granted after the group raised the £4,500 cost of the certification, which acknowledged the union as a democratic operation.

The bulk of the fee was covered by donations, including several generous contributions from established unions such as Scottish Artists Union, Musicians Union, and the General Federation of Trade Unions.

AUE supporting striking PCS workers at National Gallery. Photo via AUE's Facebook.

AUE supporting striking PCS workers at National Gallery. Photo via AUE’s Facebook.

The Government website states that the Certification Office grants the accreditation in recognition that the union is not under the domination or control of employers, and is not liable to influence arising out of financial or material provision.

“A new landscape for artists now exists,” the AUE said in a statement. “These core workers now have a trade union to represent them, which will work for better pay and conditions across England; where they can work together to challenge exploitative practice, be represented independently and democratically and raise the bar for artists.”

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