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Visual Arts

The Scottish Government counted just under 510 visual arts related businesses in 2016.

That’s a huge proportion — about 40% — of the UK total. While the official definition of visual arts practice covers only ‘artistic creation’ and ‘retail sale in commercial galleries’ it’s a wide-ranging sector, covering many disciplines and both public and privately-funded programmes spread across Scotland.

The big picture

Creative Scotland undertook a review of Scotland’s visual arts sector in 2016. It found many positives, including the range, quality and ambition of the work and the open and supportive outlook of people working across the sector. It recognised a high level of knowledge, skills and expertise, as well as varied opportunities to work with and learn from peers. 

Networks and connections across the country work well regionally and nationally, and both individuals and organisations generate significant public value and benefit through their work. 

On the other hand, the report also highlights limited sector visibility and the need for stronger advocacy, locally and nationally, as well as a lack of opportunities for career and professional development. It shows that pressures on public funding limit the resources available to practitioners, and a relatively low level of pay and/or earnings. 

Working in the visual arts 

While the majority of visual arts professionals are artists, large numbers also work as dealers, curators, reviewers, studio providers or educators. Most are self-employed, or work for small organisations. 

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of people employed in visual arts dropped by almost 8%, creating a new total of about 1,200 working in the sector. Almost all are highly qualified, with most having at least an undergraduate degree in fine art or design and more than a third holding postgraduate qualifications. Only about 5% of visual arts workers have no formal training. 

The average income is well below the national average, coming in at about £14,000 per annum, and even less for self-employed workers. Most freelancers, in fact, work part or full-time to support their practice. 

Developing your skills 

There’s a recognised need for better career and professional development opportunities for visual artists and practictioners in Scotland. But opportunities do exist to build not only artistic skills, but skills that can help grow a business. Arts and Business Scotland, for example, run seminars, forums and workshops designed to help build business skills in terms of finance and management. 

Organisations like the Scottish Contemporary Art Network highlight opportunities for professional workshops where you can develop existing skills or explore new ones. And specific development opportunities for particular genres also exist through organisations like LUX Scotland, which run development events for artists working in moving images. Networks like Visual Arts Scotland, Artquest, Visiting Arts and Creative Scotland are useful places to begin. 

Funding and support  

Creative Scotland open project funding could help artists develop their skills or practice, create something new, present their work to audiences or encourage more people to get involved with creative activity. Regular funding may also be available to collectives or organisations aiming to make a significant contribution to society – creatively, socially and economically. 

There’s a comprehensive list of potential funding sources across the UK, Europe and internationally on the Paul Hamlyn Foundation website. You can also find up-to-date listings of awards and prizes available to visual artists across the UK at Artquest. 

If you’d like to know more

Find out more about the sector: 

Creative Scotland Visual Arts Sector Review 

Scottish Contemporary Arts Network 

Visual Arts Scotland 

Find out more about funding: 

Creative Scotland 

Paul Hamlyn Foundation 


Looking for sound advice and/or a sounding board?

Contact us to organise a meeting with one of our experienced and friendly creative industry advisors.