Culture Shock: It took years to build our arts sector. Now it’s being destroyed
We talk about the importance of the arts in the national conversation, yet conversation about the policy to shape the arts themselves is barely audible
But in the arts, can we say such candour exists? Privately, senior figures express concern; publicly they feel gagged for fear of reprisal through the opacity of funding decisions. Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan would be more exercised by the turf cutters in Kilteevan than the funded arts sector. Grassroots organisations such as the National Campaign for the Arts have sought to advance a research agenda to inform future policy, but political progress is glacial. The dirty bomb that went off in Limerick gets quarantined by the Minister’s department, and the Arts Council is mute on the affair, yet both had representatives on the board, in Niall O’Donnchu, the department’s assistant secretary general, and Orlaith McBride, the director of the Arts Council.
We know further austerity awaits the arts. Money matters, but so does vision. Formulating policy in an area as subjective as the arts is challenging, but we can put it off no longer. Also, the 2003 Arts Act provides the Minister for Arts with the legislative tool kit to do so. Painful choices would be required, particularly by the Arts Council. I might find myself on the receiving end, but I’ll accept the outcome of any process conducted openly, honestly and co-operatively. That would be preferable to watching 20 years of work go down the drain in the slow paralysis of death by 1,000 cuts.
We are better than this. We have extraordinary cultural assets. The best are often intangible, and it’s time to explore brave new paradigms that will allow them to flourish. Our current path leads only to a cultural ghost estate of hollowed-out structures with empty seats run by zombie organisations, the best emerging talent gone to New York and Berlin, the audience at home watching US dramas on Netflix.
Like the painted shop fronts in Fermanagh when the G8 visited, it will be good for ministerial photo ops but not much else.
Fintan O’Toole is on leave