New Minister, new ideas? 10 priorities for the arts

Heather Humphreys is the new Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Some key people whose work her decisions will affect say where they think she should begin

Spoiled for priorities: Heather Humphreys receives her seal of office from the President. Photograph: Alan Betson

Spoiled for priorities: Heather Humphreys receives her seal of office from the President. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 01:00

What do we know about Heather Humphreys, the new Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht? She knows about credit unions, she lives on a farm and she plays the piano. So far so good for Google. Perhaps more importantly, what should Humphreys know about the arts themselves?

It’s easy to say we want things to be different, better, leaner, more excellent (that one comes up a lot), more vibrant – but what should the new Minister make a priority for the rest of the Government’s term? And are there any big ideas for her to latch on to and make a change for the better? People from across the arts have nominated a top 10.

1 Inevitably, priority one is funding. In the words of the Arts Council’s director, Orlaith McBride, “There are two things the Arts Council believes should be prioritised. The first is increased investment in the arts. The sector has endured such significant reductions since 2008 that it has become severely stressed and its ongoing viability is at crisis point. The ideas, creativity and innovation are still there, but the ability to translate them into artistic work is significantly compromised, so increased investment is critical.”

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2 Policy was McBride’s second priority, something also taken up by many of the people I spoke to. The feeling is that it would be a tragedy if Jimmy Deenihan’s commitment to the development of a national cultural policy, Culture 2025, were lost in the reshuffle. Surprisingly, it would be the first such policy since the foundation of the State. 

“Policy underpins decision-making. The commitment by the Cabinet to do this has been made. The new Minister can act swiftly to get the process under way, and she will find that a commitment to a clear deadline will draw support widely,” says Valerie Connor, who chairs the National Campaign for the Arts.

3 It seems a no-brainer that art and education should go hand in hand. No one wants another shift for a department that seems to change partners with a worrying degree of promiscuity (from sport to tourism to heritage and the Gaeltacht), but the two sectors need to work together.

“Some progress has been made under Jimmy Deenihan and Ruairí Quinn to entwine arts and education, but this must be accelerated urgently,” says Maureen Kennelly, director of Poetry Ireland. “All talk of audience development takes on a futile air until we start to focus in earnest on arts education in the Irish school system. We need to create truly equal access to the arts from a very early age. We know it works elsewhere.”

Deenihan and Quinn signed a memorandum of understanding on this shortly before the reshuffle.

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4 Secure the future of Culture Ireland, the body that supports Irish artists to showcase their work overseas, generating revenue streams and promoting Ireland, and Irish arts and culture, abroad. Since 2009 Culture Ireland funding has been cut from €4.63 million to €2.5 million.

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