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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 8, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    Balancing books, and splashing the cash

    Laurence Mackin

    It’s pretty much as you were in terms of the wider Budget and the Arts sector in particular. There were few surprises in store, although a bit more detail filled in a few gaps in our knowledge (those of you working for any of the larger arts organisations might want to look away now).

    As expected, there will be a roughly 12 per cent cut in spending on Arts and Culture. The National Archives is to lose 12 per cent of its funding, with a further 15 per cent cut in monies to match income generated by that organisation. The amount distributed to Imma, the Crawford, the NCH and the Chester Beatty (which are lumped together) is to drop by 8 per cent (I imagine they all get together in an enormous room, the cash is thrown in the air with some fans, and the various directors have to madly stuff what they can grab into their pockets). Cultural Projects (your guess is as good as mine) is to lose 3 per cent and Culture Ireland seems to have got off lightly with a 2 per cent cut in funding.

    Cultural Development is losing fully 50 per cent of the funding towards this area. According to the Department the majority of the reduction is a cut in capital funding for infrastructure projects. It says: “Capital funding for arts infrastructure has been consolidated in the Department and all major arts capital projects will be completed as will regional capital projects to which commitments have been made. Projects completed in 2010 include the Model Niland in Sligo, Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick and the Gallery of Photography in Dublin. Projects for completion in 2011 included the Solas Picture House in Galway, the Limerick City Art Gallery and Nenagh Community Arts Centre in Co Tipperary.”

    The Arts Council is losing 5 per cent of its funding, which seems manageable. The National Museum of Ireland is lighter by 6 per cent, the National Library will have to contend with a 14 per cent cut in funding, while the Irish Film Board has had a modest (in the circumstances) 4 per cent cut in funding.

    What is somewhat maddening is that the figure for Exchequer pensions included in these statistics has risen by 19 per cent on 2010’s figures. Similarly, that huge cut in funding for Cultural Development is a bit scary, although I’m still trying to find out what this accounts for. Together with the change in the artists’ tax exemption, these are tough measures, but very much in line with the burden other sectors are expected to shoulder.

    Insert tabloid joke about pictures of birds here. Photograph: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

    In other news, it seems some patrons are still flush with cash, with the world’s most expensive book selling for £7.3 million. It’s an enormous tome, measuring 90cm by 60cm, called Birds of America, a 19th-century masterpiece by John James Audubon. It contains 435 hand-coloured illustrations and was sold to an anonymous bidder over the phone. Audubon made the thing so big because apparently he wanted to paint life-sized birds. So what’s the better use of money? One book or a small government’s annual budget for one of its cultural institutions?

    • minXie says:

      Oh, I’d love that book. Wonder who got it.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      A London art dealer called Michael Tollemache apparently. There was a bit of concern that it would be cut up by someone unscrupulous and sold as individual artworks, but Tollemache certainly won’t – he reckons the thing is priceless.

    • Emily says:

      Hi Laurence, is your figure correct for Culture Ireland? Theatre Forum & the NFCA have their budget _increasing_ by 71%.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Emily – According to the Government estimates (available at http://www.budget.gov.ie/budgets/2011/Documents/Estimates%20Budget%202011.pdf) Culture Ireland got €4.083 million in 2010 and will get €3.997 million in 2011 – a decrease of 2 per cent. According to the Minister for the Arts Mary Hanafin “a carry-over of €3m from 2010 will be used towards the funding of Culture Ireland’s major year-long season of contemporary Irish culture, Imagine Ireland, across the US in 2011” – hence the figure of €6,997 at Theatre Forum and elsewhere.

      Basically, Culture Ireland’s budget is the €3.997 and the €3 million is a once-off payment to fund this once-off programme. You could argue that their budget has gone up by that much, but my understanding, following a phonecall to the Department, is that the €3 million must go on the US programme and isn’t transferable to other projects under CI’s aegis. Hope that clears it up.

    • Emily says:

      Thanks Laurence, that explains the discrepancy. I suppose it depends on how you look at it indeed!

    • Jen says:

      I’m afraid I have to pull you up on two points. Firstly a 5% cut to the Arts Coucnil is far from manageable. There are hundreds of small organisations and thousands of individuals relying on that small pot of money to make work. Last year a 6% reduction resulted in the closing down of half of the theatre companies in the country. The second point is frankly I welcome the 50% cut in what is effectively Capital expenditure. This is money that has historically bought us empty arts centres up and down the country and I think it should be cut altogether. Artists make art not buildings. This is a subsidy to the building industry.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Jen – While any cut is regrettable I think in the circumstances, the best the Arts Council could have hoped for would be 5 per cent. With the closure of so many organisations surely there is less need for administration at the Arts Council, so that would seem to be one area that could be targeted.

      Perhaps this is a good opportunity for the Arts Council to look at a thorough reorganisation and a fresh look at exactly how its funds are dispersed. For example, in the Minister’s press release, she says the Arts Council funds more than 200 festivals. Does this country really need four festivals a week?

      I have also made the point previously on this blog that when dealing with cuts, the most vulnerable should be protected. So smaller arts organisations should be protected, and the larger organisations should be expected to take on a larger share of the burden.

      With regard to the “Cultural Development” cut, I’m trying to find out what this actually covers.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      FYI folks, I’ve updated the post above with particular reference to the Cultural Development cut with a statement from the Department.

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