Creative Ireland: artists respond

Creative professionals are cautiously optimistic but wary of a branding exercise

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at the National Gallery of Ireland, where he launched Creative Ireland, a major cross-governmental initiative and legacy project of Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, with Minister for the Arts  Heather Humphreys and Minister  for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at the National Gallery of Ireland, where he launched Creative Ireland, a major cross-governmental initiative and legacy project of Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, with Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Artists and workers within the creative industries have been largely positive in their response to the Government’s Creative Ireland policy announcement

“It’s the first time I’ve felt this excited that arts is now central to government thinking,” says Angela Dorgan, the founder of First Music Contact, a free advice resource for the independent music sector.

“It was great to hear all three – the Taoiseach, Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys – all talk about the importance of the artist. It’s not every day you hear a minister talk about ‘well being’ and ‘art’ in the same sentence.”

The announcement, she says, was extremely welcome at the end of “a long year, when artists felt they weren’t being heard by Government”.

Mary Hickson, director of the Clonmel Junction festival and former CEO of Cork Opera House, says “Creative Ireland is very welcome initiative. It has the potential to be a really poignant moment in our creative history. What is most important now is how we roll this out, we must get it right. We have to be very careful with this opportunity. I am particularly thrilled and excited for my children and the young people of Ireland.”

According to the plan, the Departments of Arts and Social Protection will devise a pilot scheme “to assist self-employed artists who have applied for Jobseekers Allowance”. This, says Dorgan, is being widely interpreted as an “‘artists dole’ and would be the most welcome thing for artists everywhere”. It would mean that when applying for income support “you are not going to be hounded and constantly asked ‘are you looking for a job’ – that it is okay to say, ‘I’m an artist. I’m creating and I’m working.’”

Writer and actor Emmet Kirwan says the scheme would be “a great initiative but I think it will be a harder thing for our culture to swallow. That argument is very hard to make, but I think it’s a great idea. They have a similar situation in France; there is a precedent for this all across Europe. I would be absolutely in favour of it. But I know the attitude we have towards people on social welfare – I can already imagine the comments I’m going to read on the Journal.ie.”

One of the central pillars of Creative Ireland is that each schoolchild will have access to art, music, drama and coding lessons. “It is ambitious and on some level, Music Generation are doing that already,” says Dorgan. “It’s amazing that there is report after report about how important music is to making a positive impact on a person, on making a whole human and on making a future citizen.”

It’s important she says to also think about the medium and long term impact of these policies. “Let’s also make sure that institutions have the resources, so that when those kids grow up and want to be musicians, let’s make sure there are bursaries for them, let’s make sure are further education opportunities. Let’s make sure they leave with huge ambitions that can be supported.

Kirwan is also keen to look at the long-term implications. “One of the great things about art in Ireland now is that there is a true representation of our community across the arts.”

He traces this back to the increase in “funding that went into the arts in the 1990s. . . We need to hold on to that.” He compares this to the current situation in Britain where few people from deprived economic backgrounds can consider a career in the arts, largely thanks to the burden of college fees, and “you have a situation where everyone in the arts will be from a private school and the arts will become monocultural.

“The [educational initiatives] are absolutely brilliant; they seem to be getting the idea that this is a five-year thing that will pay dividends. Already the investment they put in the 1990s is proving that now.”

Angela Dorgan says the “epitome of the 2016 celebrations” was the 1916 Centenary concert, which was filmed and broadcast at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on Easter Monday.

“On stage you had Roisin O, the Coronas and Villagers. These are all individual artists and they didn’t get that out of thin air. They have to be very careful that when you are creating artists at school level that you don’t forget that ‘making’ level. That’s where a band, for example, needs money, a touring bursary, a CV bursary, otherwise in five to 10 years’ time there is a big scoop out of their development.”

On Twitter, historian Niamh Puirséil points out that much of the work put into the Easter Rising celebrations was by the public and voluntary. The Government emphasies the huge effort made by the public during the centenary celebrations in the policy document but most of it was done for free, which is not something that can be relied on indefinitely.

The National Campaign for the Arts, a nationwide, volunteer-led movement, says Creative Ireland’s “stated ambition of putting arts, culture and creativity at the heart of Government decision-making for the first time has the potential – if delivered – to realise a sea change for the cultural sector but also for the well-being of Irish society as a whole.”

It welcomes the proposed social protection changes as a “a long overdue safety net for self-employed artists” that should see an “improvement in the fortunes of the majority of artists who create and produce great work despite their precarious livelihood”.

It points out that Ireland is still at the bottom of the European league table in terms of cultural investment, according to Council of Europe figures, and says that “transformational investment is needed to enable the arts sector, as prime generators of cultural and creative output, to fully deliver Creative Ireland’s ambitious aims”.

If this happens, says NCFA chairperson Jo Mangan, “Ireland will finally be able to consign to history its unenviable position at the bottom of the EU league in terms of average GDP spending on arts and culture.”

Emmet Kirwan points out that some of the document’s language is worrying. The fifth pillar in the plan says: “Amid increasingly fierce global competition for investment, tourism and export markets, a clear articulation of a country’s values, capabilities and beliefs about itself is increasingly important. Creative Ireland will facilitate the development of that articulation [and] presents an opportunity to create a single proposition based on Irish culture and creativity that represents a considered, compelling and imaginative view of how we wish to be seen by the outside world.”

Kirwan says: “The fifth pillar appears to be that artists should get on message and it commodifies the arts and co-opts artists to put forward an idealised version to the world of what Ireland is like, which is a branding exercise; but artists put forward to the world what Ireland actually is or they challenge ideas about what Ireland is.

“My biggest question would be to say, who gets to say what the ‘authentic representation of Ireland’ is? It shows bravery of a democracy and a culture that can fund an arts community that may speak out against government or help shows like Dublin Oldschool that may show an unflattering aspect of Ireland.” Dublin Oldschool, Kirwan’s play which is due to tour to the National in London, features frank depictions of homelessness and drug addiction in Ireland.

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