A new drive for fairer artist pay has been launched, in a bid to improve pay for the 71% of artists who do not receive a fee for their exhibitions.

The Artist Information Company or A-N, which represents 20,000 visual artists in the UK, has launched new guidelines for galleries to pay artists adequately.

A-N say that research shows 71% of artists had not received a fee for their contributions to publicly-funded exhibitions.

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In addition, 63% of artists had to turn down exhibition offers from publicly-funded galleries "because they couldn’t afford to work for nothing."

They say the new fair pay scale, a series of suggested payments from £150 to £6000, "represents a significant marker in the evolution of the visual arts sector and a vital step in ensuring the sustainability of the arts ecology in England, Scotland and Wales for decades to come."

The new "fair payment guidelines" follow a renewed focus on fair pay for artists by the biggest arts funder in Scotland, Creative Scotland.

In Scotland, around 80% of artists earn less than £10,000 from their work, with only 2% able to generate earnings of more than £20,000.

Last night the body said it would work with publicly funded galleries to adopt the wage scale.

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A statement from A-N about the campaign said: "There are two contrasting popular perceptions about artists working in the visual arts field – firstly they are starving to create their art and secondly that they sell their work for mystifyingly high sums.

"Reality, as ever, is a lot more complex.

"It is also undoubtedly true that the arts are an important part of how we define ourselves and our culture.

"There are over 150 publicly funded galleries in England, Scotland and Wales but until now there has been no widely agreed guidance as to how much artists should be paid for creating the work shown within their changing exhibitions programme."

It adds: "Whether it is blockbuster exhibitions in major arts venues or a group show in a small, local gallery, it is the artists who are the ‘content providers’ and the exhibition spaces would not function without them. A simple analogy is that cinemas aren’t cinemas without film-makers and iPods are just decorative boxes without musicians."

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Amanda Catto, head of visual art at Creative Scotland said: “Creative Scotland welcomes this guidance which supports the wider ambition of our recently published Arts Strategy, to improve the financial context in which artists and other creative professionals develop and make their work.

"These guidelines present a step forward in creating better conditions for artists making work for public exhibitions.

"We will continue to work with a-n and other partners to promote this guidance and its adoption by publicly funded galleries across Scotland."

Jeanie Scott, executive director of A-N said that the annual income for the majority of visual artists is lower than the national living wage, and it was critical that the association find ways to improve the lot of its members which are either given low payments or none.

She added: "But this guidance is about more than just ensuring artists are fairly paid.

"It’s about recognising the significant contribution they make to our material lives, and to the broad economic success the sector enjoys.

"Artists are the essential component. If we don’t invest in them individually, we’ll be in danger of losing the diversity, invention and vigour the visual arts are known for as they simply won’t be able to afford to make work.”