Arts in education
In the 1951 Dáil debate on the establishment of the Arts Council, Fine Gael TD Maurice Dockrell said that if the new council wanted to build a better appreciation of the arts it would have to start by educating children. So over 60 years later the Government’s new charter on the arts in education is to be welcomed. However, this will be a charter of meaningless rhetoric if there is no determination to follow up with implementation of its objectives.
Ministers Jimmy Deenihan and Ruairí Quinn are to be commended on the initiative but must take note of previous failures to remedy the deficit in arts education in our schools. They also need to deal with whatever political and bureaucratic myopia has prevented progress in the past. Educational policymakers have up to now done little to foster and support arts education. Nor has there been any evidence of the kind of joined-up thinking between their departments that both Ministers have now stated as being critical to achieve their goals.
There are many writers and artists who owe their careers to an inspirational teacher but very often it is down to random chance for a student to encounter the enthusiastic teacher who will step outside the formal curriculum and unlock the door to artistic expression. Imagination and creativity, the capacity to think beyond the ordinary, are arguably the most important gifts a young person can receive and these formative years experiences can produce life-enriching benefits that extend beyond school days.
The idea that the Arts Council would incentivise schools where arts activity is a priority is a good one, but this must be administered on an egalitarian basis. The charter places much of the onus for achieving its aims on publicly funded artists and arts organisations and our national institutions, requiring them to “donate time to local education projects”. But what the charter lacks is any commitment to real investment – and that is what is most needed or past failures will be repeated.