Stage is set for airing of the green
What does Irish culture look like? Are we best reflected in the writings of Yeats, Beckett, O’Casey and Synge; or by Kevin Barry and Marian Keyes? By rebel songs or Riverdance, The Quiet Man or What Richard Did? As Ireland takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, a €3 million cultural programme will be launched on Monday, promoting not only the work of Irish artists, writers and performers, but also a sense of what it means to be Irish.
The programme is presented under the banner, Culture Connects; and while that may sound like one of those snappy lip-service titles, it does underline that getting people together can make things happen.
Culture Ireland, the agency responsible for promoting Irish arts abroad, has distributed about €1.5 million for more than 200 events taking place across all the EU member states, other European countries, and into Russia, China and Australia. The Arts Council and the Department of Arts have shared out the rest for more than 100 projects in Ireland.
Hand on heart, however, can anyone really say they know more today about the cultures of Hungary, Poland, Denmark and Cyprus than they did two years ago, before the respective presidencies of those countries? Have Hungarian, Polish, Danish and Cypriot artists and writers have experienced an upsurge of interest in their work? So how much does it matter?
Battle for arts and minds
Cultural diplomacy is serious business. After all, the CIA covertly, and notoriously, promoted the work of Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionists in the US in order to reshape how America was viewed in the aftermath of the second World War. The battle for the centre of the art world has been waged ever since.
Arms-length organisations, such as the Arts Council and Culture Ireland, are vital to getting the job done more appropriately. In Ireland, we have a running start at this kind of thing, given the legacy of the diaspora in spreading connections with our culture around the world. So what can we expect from Ireland’s latest foray into cultural diplomacy, and will it work?
First stop: Brussels. Every presidency country gets a crack at redecorating Floor 50, the presidential floor, of the Justus Lipsius, the headquarters of the Council of the EU. The building was designed by a team of architects and engineers from several EU member states, which gives you an idea of how ghastly it is. It has 24km of corridors, and you can turn an articulated lorry around in the atrium. The Crafts Council has curated a selection of work for the foyer, and for Floor 50, with the addition of works of Irish literature in translation from the Ireland Literature Exchange. The work of Gallery of Photography award winning artist Patrick Hogan will feature on the walls.