Strong constitution: new ideas for Bunreacht na hÉireann

Eight people involved in the Irish arts have come up with eight ideas for a new Irish Constitution, from protecting artists from poverty to making sure the best artists get funded and supported

Tue, Dec 31, 2013, 01:00

Ireland is at a point in its history where fundamental questions are being asked about how it is run, how it is shaped, and how its identity will change in the future.

As a country, we make great play of our cultural heritage, yet successive governments have a poor historical record of listening to our artists and our creative communities when it comes to matters of policy, governance or leadership. We asked a selection of people to give us an idea or article that could make up a new constitution for Ireland.



BREN BYRNE


Creative director of Offset

Ambition, risk-taking and success in shaping the creative landscape should be rewarded or at least acknowledged for the cultural, social and economic benefits they add to the country.

There is a need for a robust system of support to facilitate DIY cultural entrepreneurs. All parties must invest their own time, effort and money in fine-tuning their concept, learning about their market and finding a commercial audience, no matter how small or niche.

There is a need to avoid spending the first years of development filling out funding applications and manoeuvring through fields of red tape, and being forced to prove a concept works before they start looking for help.

No more talking. There needs to be a complete cessation of all meetings throughout the country hosted by, and for, the many “stakeholders”. No more expert panel discussions. No more invite-only “what next?” events. No more debating the need for inclusive initiatives. Identify who is doing the right things and see what support they need.


PHILIP KING


Musician, film-maker and broadcaster, and the founder of Other Voices. His film Moment to Moment, about The Gloaming, is now on the RTÉ Player


What is needed in Ireland now is a collective imagination and determination, a uniting of all aspects of our society and all strands of our economy: a pulling together.

Creativity and imagination must be at the centre of it all: they must be expressed in our policies and strategies; they must be a means of engaging with industry, education and culture, and as a polity and a public. A never-before-demonstrated determination to set a path for the long term and a new role for the State in our response to profound global changes cannot happen soon enough. The future is already here.

A huge migration of structures is happening, a focus on a sort of frigid “convenience” (but for whom and for what purpose?). Alongside that you still have these things called “people” or even “citizens” who really matter more than the systems/machines that they create or that are created “for their benefit”.

So what’s our insurance policy against that encroaching blandness? Where is the nourishment? What will keep us different and alert?

Intelligence and imagination. It is inside and among us, our creativity, culture and mind power. The challenge is how to put that at the centre of Ireland: where you have creativity, you tend to have collaboration, kindness, and you can still have healthy and ruthless competition.

The 21st century is our defining moment. Our creativity, our distinctiveness, our capacity for self-expression is at the heart of the path we must take forward with a courage we’ve never shown before.

We have some advantages. Climate change is likely to have a less severe impact here than elsewhere, leaving our productive capacity more intact.

We have a tourism product that is profoundly experiential, and a relatively robust food-producing and exporting capacity. We have a profound capacity for self-expression and creativity. This is captured in things as diverse as Coder Dojo, Other Voices and more.

Our small size means we can be agile. Our collective mood matters, and it is infectious. And our diaspora means we have a global cultural influence that is disproportionate to our size.

To survive as a cohesive, viable nation and society, we need to achieve outlier status. We need to beat the odds. We need to win where most others will lose. We will have to draw on every asset we have and overcome the constraints we have laboured under for generations.


ANGELA DORGAN

Chief executive of First Music Contact


The State and its statutory agencies shall make provision so that every citizen should have access to and experience of all art forms.

An artist has a right to produce. The State, recognising this right, shall exercise a duty of care to its artists, including the provision of material supports to those artist in pursuit of their vocation.

Political rhetoric is full of references to the value of our creative industries and to our great artists enhancing the reputation of Ireland, yet successive governments continue to cut funding to the agencies we have established to nurture, develop and support this very creativity. Cutting arts funding in the name of austerity is the wrong approach.

If we continue to talk about competition for funding across all elements of society, we ghettoise the arts, when the real truth is that artistic endeavour, whether produced or witnessed, reaches all levels of all our lives and enhances them.

Our challenge is essentially to place real value on the role of all art forms in the lives of our citizens.

Supporting our artists means we add value to the lives of all citizens. Everyone wins and it’s an investment in all our lives.

We need to introduce a protection for artists and audiences into law, to guarantee the freedom and support for all genres of artists to create, and the importance of the opportunity to witness creativity.



DYLAN COBURN GRAY


A writer and playwright

The State recognises that the arts can and do serve the common good; cultural industry is industry, and it bears the distinction of being worthwhile in its practice as much as in its product. The State shall therefore endeavour to support the arts in a manner that allows them to provide the best possible return, both social and industrial.

Social ills are much easier to diagnose when we can articulate their nature and effect on us; the freedom to artistically express both the good and the bad of our world is an integral part of freedom of expression. Where would you even draw the line between the two?

Furthermore, freedom without a forum in which to use it is, at best, nominal; in line with this, I would love an iron commitment from State-funded institutions to new work. Not just its facilitation, but its production and dissemination; there is less than no point in mentoring artists and then not producing their work, for better or worse.


MICHAEL HARDING


Author and playwright


The Constitution should incorporate some article that would enshrine the rights of women to abortion and the rights of people to terminate their own lives in certain circumstances. This autonomy of individual citizens over their own bodies should be part of any society that claims to be a republic.

I think the Constitution should also incorporate an article that protects the land of Ireland. The sovereignty of the republic is about its citizens, but their rights are infringed indirectly if the land is not sovereign. When the vast majority of a society wishes to retain the land for their own use, no one should have the right to sell it off.

This would allow decisions about fracking, the use of windmills and the extraction of oil from the sea to be made by the local communities that are affected by them, instead of such decisions being made by individuals, groups or indeed government ministers.



DONAL DINEEN


Presents Radio Activity on 2XM/2FM on Sunday nights


Great art is a shelter from the storm, among many other things. It offers protection and shields us from all sorts of prevailing moods and weather systems. Right now, it offers retreat and respite of the most valuable kind in the eye of the hurricane we’ve whipped up around ourselves.

But its production is in danger of serious demise due to official neglect. The musicians who have proven themselves capable of setting the twilight reeling are too busy making ends meet to be bothering with making magic happen. It’s a miracle that this is such an epochal production period, so pervasive are the hardcore economic horror stories among the producers in question.

There is a fatal disconnect between the policy and dream-makers. There are so many links missing you could hardly call it a chain of command. But that’s what is needed: new ways of connecting with the real thing are necessary.

Co-operative community events are at their most enduring and expressive for some time, in my experience. The value of arts spaces such as The Joinery in Dublin 7 is inestimable. Ideas are alive and support at ground level is available, but where quality, niche work can go thereafter has become a moot point.

People in positions of power are notable by their absence on the ground. The efforts of those working at the artistic coalface must no longer go unnoticed, undervalued or unfunded.

There is a golden age of Irish musicians capable of providing an antidote to the pervasive toxic fumes of national financial failure, yet the majority of these are constrained by meagre funding structures that fail them utterly.

Funding must find its way to the most deserving artists; these people are often the meekest when it comes to making cases for themselves via grant applications. The official recognition of their role and status, as well as the opening-up of more leftover vacant spaces and the provision of new or more flexible grants to support artistic endeavour, would be a place to start.

A whole generation of creative minds is moving away. With them go our chances of finding a way out of this mess. The focus must be on the quality of the output and that alone.

It’s time to turn off the mute button and start listening harder. A vibrant art and music world is just the buffer we need, and it is one we can ill-afford not to build and support, but we’re falling down badly at present, falling down on dated procedures and deaf ears. It’s a sorry State.



THEO DORGAN


Poet and writer, and editor of Foundation Stone: Notes Towards a Constitution for a 21st Century Republic (New Island Books)


The State shall recognise the important role of the artist in shaping, contributing to and challenging the collective imagination of the people.

In its laws and enactments, the State shall at all times respect the liberty of the artist and shall not obstruct or set obstacles before, nor hinder nor by any means attempt to constrain the free imagination in its conceptions and executions.

Furthermore, the State shall, through its statutory agencies, its laws and its instruments, do all that may be in its power to nourish and provide for the production, dissemination and enjoyment of art in all its forms and manifestations.

Recognising that every citizen has the right to make art, and has equally a right of access to the experience of art in all its forms now known and yet to be invented or discovered, the State shall make all due provision, including comprehensive provision through education, for the cultivation and enjoyment of the arts by and for the benefit of all citizens.



JESSE JONES

Artist whose Prosperity Project public art commission is currently under way in the Convention Centre Dublin and in Dublin’s Docklands area

Ireland will support its artists internationally in the exhibition and dissemination of their work. Arts and culture represent our window to the world and reflect how we are imagined and seen globally.

Recent cuts to Culture Ireland have had a significant effect on Ireland’s ability to ensure its position as a vital cultural player within the world.

For a small country, we have an impressive reputation for our contribution to the visual, literary and dramatic arts. We know how valuable the arts are as an expression of ourselves as a nation, not just economically but also as an articulation of our identity and imagination and consciousness in the world.

The government will ensure that the role of Irish artists within the ecology of international contemporary culture is supported.

This will ensure that Ireland’s cultural voice will be present within global artistic culture and will continue to shape that culture through participation within the arts. This international exposure will reciprocally enhance Irish arts practice and ensure that Irish arts will have a dynamic and global perspective.

The government will protect the rights of artists to live and work in Ireland. The government will create a policy that will aim to combat the precariousness of artists as citizens of the State who are often vulnerable to poverty due to the frequency of unpaid labour conditions.

Artists’ rights as workers will be protected by law to ensure that their labour contribution shall be remunerated in the same way as other cultural workers within the arts.

Artists who engage in the making of art works for exhibition in publicly funded and supported institutions shall be treated as equals as administration and other staff within the institution and not as volunteers when it comes to payment for their time.

This policy will ensure that art practice is an equal-opportunities profession that does not rely on financial independence in order to uptake a role within the profession, and thereby will be inclusive of participation within the arts regardless of the socio-economic background of the individual.

This policy will also ensure an equality of social and cultural participation in the arts and will in turn ensure that the Irish public are exposed to a visual culture that represents the social polyphony of its citizens’ voices.

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