Defiance and contempt at Aosdána’s annual meeting

The mood was combative, with some members appearing to claim that the nature of the organisation’s work puts it beyond accountability

Fri, May 2, 2014, 16:59

On Tuesday, Aosdána, an Irish association of artists, met for its annual general assembly at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It is the only time the organisation meets during the year, and of its 247 members, 125 were in attendance.

The morning session of the meeting was closed to the public, but The Irish Times obtained a copy of the agenda. New members are elected at the annual assembly, and this year, 16 people were nominated. They are: composers Elaine Agnew, Ciaran Farrell and Daniel Figgis; architect Tom de Paor; artists Rita Duffy, Marie Hanlon, Mary Kelly, Abigail O’Brien, Geraldine O’Neill and Joe Walker; poet James Harpur; playwright Sean McCarthy; writers Mary Morrissy, Michael O’Loughlin and Sean O’Reilly; and Irish-language actor and playwright Joe Steve Ó Neachtain.

There were three available spaces this year, as the quota for membership is 250. Ó Neachtain was the sole successful candidate.

One of the morning’s three motions was in reference to the voting system for new members. “The assembly believes that is it important that the voting in relation to new members be as broad and inclusive as possible and that it should not be seen that withholding of support from other candidates is advantageous to a member’s favoured candidate or candidates.

“The assembly therefore requests An Toscaireacht to consider, consult on and report to next year’s assembly on the desirability of using transferable preference for the election of new members.”

It is clear from this motion that nothing happens quickly in Aosdána, and any proposed change to the peer-elected process of voting will be at least two years away.

Aosdána received €2.7 million from the Arts Council this year, most of it supporting the €17,180 stipend, or cnuas, that is received by 155 of its members.

The Toscaireacht is the committee that represents Aosdána’s members. At the public afternoon session, an outgoing member of that committee, artist Alice Hanratty, addressed several members of the media who were then present.

Hanratty declared that she had “nothing but contempt for these people who criticise Aosdána and for what they write about us. I regard them all as being people who have nothing better to do, so I personally never worry about their opinions.” (Several recent articles have been published in this newspaper and others discussing the level of funding it receives.)

It seems strange that any State-funded organisation should consider itself above scrutiny or criticism. From Tuesday’s assembly, it is evident that some members of Aosdána believe the nature of their work makes them exempt from accountability.

As a former member of the Toscaireacht, Hanratty is one of the people who represented Aosdána members and met regularly with the Arts Council. If her publicly declared blanket contempt for critics of Aosdána is even partially representative of the other 247 members’ views, then Aosdána would appear to be alarmingly out-of-touch with reality. No organisation funded by taxpayers’ money can be immune from criticism. Hanratty’s comments will have done little to engender public respect for Aosdána.

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