A new Minister and a new plan for the Arts Council: is a change gonna come?

The council says it is ‘very pleased’ with the steering group’s findings. Let’s hope real change will follow

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:00

The new report proposes that the council should “ensure that all its actions and decisions are developmental in intent and that the rationale for partnerships, the criteria for investment, and the basis for funding agreements are explicitly linked to Arts Council goals and strategic objectives.” This is unlikely to be the current state of play.

I’ll give you an idea of the situation regarding music. I contacted the council and asked to be directed to its most recent statement of music policy. I was told that there is “no overarching music policy document, as the area is so broad, but that we have policy documents and approaches in several genres, for example choral music”. In spite of the declared broadness issue, I was directed to “higher-level policies”, which deal in even broader areas.

By contrast, a quick search on the websites of the Arts Council of England and the Arts Council of Wales identified goals and commitments regarding music that are specific and clear, and highlighted what pathetic boilerplate the council here is still happy to promulgate.

The council’s chairwoman, Sheila Pratschke, gave a positive reception to both reports. The one on the Abbey, she said, “provides an important first step for a renewed and improved relationship between the Arts Council and the Abbey Theatre”. And she declared the council to be “very pleased” with the steering group’s findings, saying “it is an excellent piece of work and we look forward to engaging with it”. Let’s hope real change will follow her welcoming words.


Oh my Gáis

Back in the days of plenty, the State acquired what is now the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre as part of a community gain contra deal with developers in the docklands. Think of it as a kind of parallel to the social housing clauses that developers signed up to, except that this project was built and delivered. The State, in its wisdom, decided that the way forward was to sell a 200-year lease for a fraction of the €80 million building cost.

That lease is now being sold by Nama, and one of the most valuable arts assets in the State seems set to remain in private control for the guts of two centuries. The long-term fate of that lease will have a huge bearing on the long-term future of opera in Dublin, as the theatre is the only large venue in the capital that is adequately equipped for opera. A case, surely, for the new Minister for the Arts, Heather Humphreys, and the Arts Council to take an interest in, once they can clear any hurdles set by the mandarins in the public service who facilitated this situation in the first place.

My aspiration for Humphreys in her new role is for her to be the new Leo Varadkar: to deal with the issues that really need to be dealt with; to answer the actual questions that she is asked; and to try to say what she really means, even if that’s an uncomfortable option.


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